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Davis, California

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Column: Modern Mad Man

When I’m surfing the net as I often do, I always notice the abundance of advertisements lining each web page I land on and wonder what Don Draper would think about advertising these days.

For those of you who have somehow avoided watching amazing television, stop what you’re doing right now and go burn through all four seasons of AMC’s “Mad Men.” Not only will you learn a great deal about the history of advertising, but you’ll also thoroughly enjoy the depiction of rampant sex, drinking and general debauchery based on Madison Avenue ad men in the 1960s.

Don Draper, aptly portrayed by a shit-this-guy-is-good-looking Jon Hamm, is the creative director of one of the biggest ad firms in New York City. He and his team design attractive ad campaigns for their clients which both brand their company in a unique way and boost sales of their product or service.

While Don and the other chauvinist ad men live in the ’60s and thus work primarily on designing print ads and early TV commercials, it would be interesting to consider how they would react to getting fast-forwarded 50 years into a landscape where the internet is king, social media sites present opportunities no one could have expected and print media is grasping for survival.

I previously worked as an ad sales rep for your very own California Aggie, and although my job didn’t include a constant flow of whiskey, cigarettes and sexism, I did work a fair amount on the process of designing ads for print, much like good old Don Draper.

Partway through my tenure as an ad rep, I went on a “Mad Men” binge and it got me thinking about what challenges the infamous ad man would face today. How would Don tackle the job of creating an image for a company online knowing the media world today exists in such a vast setting?

Businesses today have to take into consideration a wild number of factors when marketing their products. Google Analytics and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), social media strategies and a whole bevy of other boring-sounding tools are used to target an audience and grab their attention.

This game of find-and-attract-the-consumer is so progressive these days thanks to the advancement of technology, but also in part because it has to be. Gone are the days when American minds could be brainwashed by taglines like “Christmas morning she’ll be happier with a Hoover!” and “For a better start in life, start Cola earlier!” alongside a woman fawning over a vacuum and a baby, respectively.

Ad campaigns these days have to take into account that the American public is a hell of a lot more self-aware than it was in the ‘60s. Mass media has given us the ability to share information and do research faster than ever, and advertising firms have had to adapt. Unfortunately, this makes it very possible that even if we appear smarter than the dopes that fell for cocaine toothache drop ads back in the day, we really aren’t. Consumers fall victim to the same traps today, due to strategies that might appear archaic and foolish another 50 years from now.

Would Don be able to keep up with the modern day trends? Would he be able to work in partnership with major corporations like Google and Facebook, who help businesses cleverly pervade our internet experience with sometimes irresistible ads? It’s interesting to consider how far advertising has come since the “Mad Men” days, and where it might go in the future now that the interweb has a hold on our brains.

So what can aspiring Don Drapers of the internet age do to achieve success in advertising? Or would the world be better off if they turned their creative energy into entertaining society instead of emptying its wallets?

I think the answer to the second question is probably yes. But I’ll be damned if Jon Hamm doesn’t make sitting at work in a full suit with a glass of whiskey in hand just look like the best job ever.

Join VICTOR BEIGELMAN for an Old Fashioned With a Twist at the bars or contact him with questions at vbeigelman@ucdavis.edu.


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