Monday, August 25, 2008

The Madness of King Don

George Lois is one of my creative gods because, as a legendary virtuoso, he can distill complex issues into clear-cut creative iterations that are full of impact and wit. His illustrious career saw exceptional covers for Esquire Magazine and that epic “I want my MTv!” campaign. My friend Nicodemus, proving his capacity to surprise and endear himself to friends gifted me with Sellebrity: My Angling and Tangling With Famous People after I raved to no end over a book I bought, Covering the '60s: George Lois-The Esquire Era.

So when it was announced that a TV series called Mad Men is being launched I was excited. Its THE Lois era. In fact, George Lois is an original member of the Mad Men. The show's very premise (i.e. the partners, suits, creative legends like Lois, politics and exploding egos) is a blueprint of the mad creative rush of the (late 50s and) 60s where agencies like Drentell Doyle Partners and Papert Koenig Lois are infamous not just for groundbreaking creative outputs but equally for their flair for glib pitches and insane boardroom antics.


(Bonus: Because I am into design porn, the constant sight of mid-century classic furniture -I’ve spotted swan chairs, the Barcelona Bed by Mies van der Rohe. And, oh, the dapper suits and skinny ties! - made me semi turgid all the time. Add to that the opening sequence that’s giving a nod to Saul Bass.)



I missed most of Mad Men's local 2nd Avenue run, which annoyed me a lot. So imagine my utter joy when I finally got hold of the DVD of the First Season.
I can barely contain a hard on! I had a viewing spree that made me forget meals, lose sleep and ignore deadlines.

My own mentor, the legendary advertising bitch who migrated to North America, used to whine to me: “These clueless kids! They think they know advertising! They are all about glamour but can’t even tell shit from gold, and don't get me started on how to sell it to a client!” (Ouch. I was a kid when she said it.)

That hoity-toity declaration still rings in my ears these days. Especially now that I got confronted with how Don Draper, Mad Men's leading protagonist, fiercely defended the “Big Idea” written by lowly office secretary turned newbie copywriter Peggy Olsen.

During the "brainstorming session" in which the office girls “test-drive” hundreds of shades of Belle Jolie lipsticks she blurted out something along the line of "not being one of those in a basket of kisses." (She's referring to a waste basket filled with Kleenex that the girls pressed their lips to remove the lipstick, leaving behind kiss marks.)

This led into a campaign where a “Mark Your Man” headline runs along a portrait of a woman and a man. It's fresh take on cosmetics marketing but the crabby client isn’t sold.

Crabby Client: I only see one lipstick in your drawing. Women want colors. Lots and lots of colors.

Client2: "Mark Your Man." It's pretty cute.

Crabby Client: Oh, you like this? Well, maybe we should cut down to five shades, or one.

Agency Account Executive: I'm not telling you to listen to anyone, but this is a very fresh approach.

Don Draper: It's okay, Kenny. I don't think there's much else to do here but call it a day. *Stands. Extends his hand for a handshake* Gentlemen, thank you for your time.

Confounded
Crabby Client: Is that all?!

Don: You're a nonbeliever. Why should we waste time on kabuki?

Crabby Client: I don't know what that means.

Don: It means that you've already tried your plan, and you're number four. You've enlisted my expertise and you've rejected it to go on the way you've been going. I'm not interested in that. You can understand.

Crabby Client: I don't think your three months or however many thousands of dollars entitles you to refocus the core of our business —

Don: Listen. I'm not here to tell you about Jesus. You already know about Jesus. He either lives in your heart or He doesn't. Every woman wants choices. But in the end, none wants to be one of a hundred in a box. She's unique. She makes the choices and she's chosen him. She wants to tell the world, he's mine. He belongs to me, not you. She marks her man with her lips. He is her possession. You've given every girl that wears your lipstick the gift of total ownership.

* The client looks at Don, then at the ads, then yielding, at Don again.*

Client: Sit down.

Don: No. Not until I know I'm not wasting my time.

Client *defeated voice*: Sit down.

Mad Men! It's insane! Men with real balls!

The series is nothing short of brilliant. It's a multilayered cross section of creativity, morality and the warped tendencies of people (take note of the thick sexism that plagues the series). From the creators of The Sopranos, this series is very rich with textures and intelligence spanning advertising, history, commerce and ethical issues. Somewhere in the 8th episode Don Draper tossed out the line “No, The Universe is indifferent!” and I leaped out of my comfy bean bag and gave him a standing ovation in behalf of cynics everywhere.

But if there is one valuable insight one can glean from Mad Men it’s learning the skill and competence to sell ideas. Season 1 has terrific episodes on how great ideas are pushed by spot on pitches.

Don Draper, in an attempt to salvage the account from discontented client (check out the pilot episode) impressed everyone. Here he asserts his genius and growing reputation as Madison Avenue’s blue chip creative director. In this particular episode we witness the invention of “differentiation” and “Value Proposition.”

*Discontented Clients rise to leave the unproductive meeting.*

Don Draper: Gentlemen, before you leave, can I just say something? The Federal Trade Commission and Readers Digest have done you a favor. They've let you know that any ad that brings up the concept of cigarettes and health together...well, it's just going to make people think of cancer.

Senior Client (full of irony): Yes, and we are grateful to them.

Don: But what Lee Jr. said is right. You can't make those health claims. Neither can your competitors.

Senior Client: So...we got a lotta people not sayin' anything that sells cigarettes.

Don: Not exactly. This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal. We have six identical companies making six identical products. We can say anything we want. How do you make your cigarettes?

Junior Client: I don't know.

Senior Client: Shame on you. We breed insect-repellant tobacco seeds. Plant 'em in the North Carolina sunshine. Grow it, cut it, cure it, toast it —

Don: There you go. *He writes "It's Toasted" on the blackboard.*

Junior Client: But everybody else's tobacco is toasted.

Don: No. Everybody else's tobacco is poisonous. Lucky Strike's is toasted.


Roger Sterling *jubilant*: Well, gentlemen, I don't think I have to tell you what you just witnessed here.

Junior Client: I think you do.

Don: Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance: whatever you're doing, it's okay. You...are...okay.

Senior Client: "It's toasted." I get it.

The season finale is the most dazzling pitch I’ve known. Kodak is bringing out a new product, a slide projector they nicknamed “The Wheel.” A rabid competition among agencies to name and position it ensues and they came to Don’s Sterling Cooper Agency to find out what they can whip up. There was a proposition to emphasize the technology and Don, genius that he is had other plans.



Don: Well, technology is a glittering lure. But there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in house, at a fur company. This old pro copywriter, Greek, named Teddy. And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is "new." It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It's delicate. But potent.

*lights are put out, projector turned on, Click and whirring sounds as the slides are projected onscreen*

Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means "the pain of an old wound." It's a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.

*slides of Don’s wife, children, slices of family moments*

This device isn't a spaceship. It's a time machine. It goes backwards. Forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called The Wheel. It's called The Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels, around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.

*Slide flicks "Kodak introduces Carousel."*

I was stunned. It's Poetry! I wanted to cry.

Advertising, branding and design agency upstarts, pay attention!

9 comments:

WikiPika said...

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Mugen said...

This device isn't a spaceship. It's a time machine. It goes backwards. Forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called The Wheel. It's called The Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels, around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.

Poetic indeed.

You've got yourself another believer. Will look for this one tomorrow. Hehe.

Hey I'm learning from you. You're bringing me back to my advertising/journalism roots. Thanks.

Mugen said...

Guess what, been browing George Lois' homepage the whole afternoon. Interesting covers he did for esquire.

loudcloud said...

booboostrider! - i love the pop art/roy lichtenstein motif of your new blog layout :-)

loudcloud said...

mugen - well considering how bland local advertising nowadays, mad men is a refreshing reminder of the glorious era of creativity.

those esquire covers have been re-appropriated countless times but nothing beats the original! :-)

my daily thoughts said...

interesting, where did you get all of this? you did a good research.. I was trying to find this stuff on You Tube but can't seems to find it. Thanks for the info my friend
Ester's Money Journal Ester's Recollections

loudcloud said...

tey! - i watched the entire first season without taking a meal/bath/sleep. the rest of the info is pretty much learned information and snippets assimilated from other sources :-)

Robin said...

The season finale is the most dazzling pitch I’ve known. Kodak is bringing out a new product, a slide projector they nicknamed “The Wheel.” A rabid competition among agencies to name and position it ensues and they came to Don’s Sterling Cooper Agency to find out what they can whip up. There was a proposition to emphasize the technology and Don, genius that he is had other plans.

loudcloud said...

robin - thanks for providing a link to mid-century/modern classics porn!

i'd rob a bank to buy those stuff! :P