3 Tips for Content Marketers from Mad Men’s Don Draper

With the series finale of Mad Men having just aired, we say goodbye to Donald Draper, the creative yet enigmatic genius creative director and show’s leading character. I’ll miss Mad Men and its brilliant but flawed characters, spot-on costumes and sets, and depiction of agency life.

Advertising and marketing have changed dramatically since the 1960s, the decade in which Mad Men was set. But the nuts and bolts, like knowing your audience, knowing your brand and making the message count, haven’t. Throughout the series Don Draper thinks like a modern content marketer. Here are some of his top insights that are still relevant today:

“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”

Don Draper offered up this maxim to a potential client. For a real-life example of a brand that’s changed the conversation, take Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. Dove sparked a global conversation about the definition of beauty by using “real women” in print campaigns. Short films like the provocative Real Beauty Sketches examined how women perceive themselves. Dove has kept the conversation going with its new #ChooseBeautiful campaign and #speakbeautiful Twitter project. Whether you consider it empowering or polarizing, with #ChooseBeautiful hitting 6 million views and counting, for better or for worse, Dove has definitely changed the conversation.

Another brand that’s finding ways to change the conversation is Sweden’s Stutterheim Raincoats. It’s not unexpected for a company that makes minimalist handmade raincoats to exploit weather. But Stutterheim takes it further by singing the praises of gloomy weather and melancholy. The brand embraces the connection between melancholy and creativity by giving its Melancholic Person of the Year award to a famous Swedish artist. The brand also recently collaborated with EyeEm, inviting users to share their images of melancholic landscapes. Creativity and beauty out of melancholy? Don Draper would approve.

“Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent.”

In the last episode of Mad Men’s first season, Don Draper gives a master class on how to pitch a client. During a presentation to Kodak, he tells the executives that its new Carousel slide projector is, “A time machine…it goes backward and forward, and it takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” His pitch leaves the executives speechless, and tugged at the heartstrings of viewers.

The slide projector may be a thing of the past, but with today’s digital media we can elicit an emotional response through powerful stories told in blog posts, social media and video. This video by Verizon Wireless launched in time for Mother’s Day had me reaching for the tissues in a similar way. (I dare you not to tear up.)

Even though these examples might not make you cry, the desired effect is heartwarming. Just look at the popularity of #TBT to see how nostalgia and leveraging the past can be a warm and fuzzy win.

Disclaimer: Verizon Wireless is a client of Pace

“Why does everybody need to talk about everything?”

Don Draper may have been impulsive when it came to whiskey and women, but when it came to staying on brand, he knew the value of being strategic.

Big brands that offer an array of products or experiences know this—think Apple, Nike and Disney. Or my new favorite, General Electric. By talking less about company history and products and leveraging its consumer-friendly web site and robust social media channels (notably, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Vine), the brand goes beyond light bulbs and appliances to share high-quality content and talk about technology in a way that’s conversational and meaningful, but also strategic and straightforward.

We can approach our content marketing work the same way: by emphasizing quality over quantity, understanding the client’s core values and audience, and using relevant channels and platforms to engage consumers. I wouldn’t emulate Don Draper’s lifestyle, but his insights on the business are a worthwhile takeaway.

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What are your favorite marketing moments from Mad Men?

By Callie Fromson

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