The seventh and final season of Mad Men is upon us. And even though the show revolves around the world of advertising, there’s a whole lot Mad Men can teach us about business. The working world has changed a lot since the ‘60s (thank goodness!), but some concepts are timeless.
Other people's mistakes are your wins
Remember when Stan shares a bit too much office gossip with Peggy, who at this point works at CG&C? He tells her that the Heinz Ketchup rep has come in to SCDP for a meeting, but that the Heinz Baked Beans guy is absolutely against SCDP doing the advertising for ketchup (he has a personal axe to grind against the ketchup guy).
So Stan tells Peggy this juicy piece of information, and Ted Chaough overhears. Immediately, he decides that CG&C should put together a presentation for Heinz Ketchup. Peggy is initially not so sure about it, feeling that she is betraying Stan, who told her this in confidence. But Ted sees the opportunity in a situation where SCDP would otherwise have the upper hand, and he seizes the opportunity.
On the day of the meetings, as the SCDP team comes out of the Heinz Ketchup presentation, they are shocked to see the CG&C team go in. Although SCDP had a killer pitch, the people from Heinz don’t like the fact that their ketchup bottle is not featured in the ad. And because of that, CG&C wins their favour and gets the business on the spot, all because Stan made the mistake of sharing a bit too much info with Peggy.
The customer isn't always right
We’ve heard ad nauseam that the customer is always right. False.
Of course, you shouldn’t be rude to your customers. But if they are requesting something completely different from what you create and what you’re about, then it’s time to part ways.
Take a lesson from Don Draper and Jaguar’s Herb Rennet, the dealer manger for Jaguar. The audience (and Don, to some extent) already hates Herb Rennet, the guy who offered to help SCDP get Jaguar in exchange for a night with Joan back in season 5.
But in season 6, Herb Rennet comes to SCDP asking them to propose to the Jaguar bosses that they take the ad campaign local, with radio ads. Rennet says that this will drive up the Jaguar sales, as it will bring people into the dealerships.
This is not what Don is about. He put together an elegant national campaign for Jaguar, and he won’t compromise that for Rennet. Of course, it helps that the Jaguar bosses don’t really care for the local campaign either. It’s crude and it’s unrefined, and that’s simply not the kind of thing SCDP stands for.
So, yes, you want to please your customers and make them happy. But if what they want is entirely different from what you’re offering, it means they’re not your target audience and it’s time to move on, just like Don moved on from Jaguar.
Embrace bottom-up management
Peggy Olson had quite an evolution on Mad Men. From secretary to copy writer to copy chief, she’s one of the few women on the show with an amazing career (or any career at all, for that matter).
As a copy chief, Peggy is a quite a tough boss and a stickler for quality. She demands the best work from her creative staff, to the point where she often gets pranked/bullied by her staff (none of which are women, by the way).
In one instance where she has them working hard on an ad, Peggy’s secretary tells her that she should be more encouraging of the copy writers, just as she is of her.
As Peggy was herself a secretary, it’s easy to understand why she’s supportive of her own secretary’s career. But even more interesting is that she listens to the advice of her secretary, considering whether she’s been too tough on her creative team.
What we see is a glimpse of bottom-up management, where team members have a proactive input into the company. This style of management can increase team members’ motivation to work and their engagement in the company.
Peggy does take her secretary’s advice and tries to guide her team more; but alas, it might be too late - the damage seems to be already done.
How to deliver a jaw-dropping pitch
One of the things I love most about Mad Men are the pitches. They’re simply amazing! Everyone can stand to learn from the amazing pitches on the show.
The thing about them, is that they’re always hitting on something personal. They go right to the pain point, even though the client might not even have realized that’s their pain point and the result is often quite stirring.
Take for example when Peggy is delivering the Heinz Ketchup presentation. She talks about how Heinz’s competitor is saying that their ketchup is the same as Heinz. She says: “It makes you angry, doesn’t it? Me too!”
Do you think Peggy actually gets angry when she sees the other company’s ads? Who gets angry over ketchup? Of course she doesn't. But she uses strong, emotional words to get her audience’s attention.
It’s the same with Don’s presentation for Kodak’s new slide projector, The Wheel. He talks about nostalgia, and about everyone’s need to feel loved. He says:
“It's not called 'The Wheel.' Its called 'The Carousel.' It lets us travel in a way a child travels. Round and round, and then back home again. To a place where we know we are loved.”
If you’ve watched the pitch, you’ve probably felt a bit teary eyed by the end of his presentation.
Every pitch should get at something emotional, something that hits people on a personal level. It's not
Keep it simple
Some of the best ads on Mad Men are incredibly simple. So simple that they might make you think “I could’ve come up with that!"
In reality, keeping it simple is one of the hardest thing in all aspects of business, not just in creative.
Take it from Steve Jobs:
“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” ~ Steve Jobs
There's an inherent elegance in simplicity. How else would Peggy be able to make ketchup look so classy?
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
Although it's hard to get to that point, once you are able to embrace simplicity, you'll be on your way to a winning business.
These are the first five business lessons from Mad Men. For the next five, check out the second article on what Mad Men can teach us about business.