As Mad Men’s Wild Ride Is Ending, Branding Remains Strong
Don Draper. Peggy Olson. Roger Sterling. Joan Holloway. Pete Campbell. For six and a half seasons, starting in 2007, these Mad Men character names have become members of the advertising community. The epicenter of that community is Manhattan, the city that both the show and the industry it simultaneously chronicles and parodies call home. So as we count down the last week before the second half of the final season begins on Sunday, April 5, AMC’s crack advertising team has a special treat for New Yorkers and those visiting The Big Apple. Literally, as Mad Men’s wild ride is coming to an end, the final shows are being advertised atop Manhattan’s yellow cabs – infamously wild rides in their own right. (The front end of the car pictured in this post can attest to thrill one may feel in the backseat as the cab driver makes his or her own rules of the road – whipping in and out of traffic with reckless abandon, defying physics, and somehow delivering the vast majority of passengers safe and sound to their requested destinations.)
“The Ride Is Almost Over,” says the headline in the show’s signature black and red Helvetica type. It’s a simple double entendre that viewers can easily imagine Draper penning. The graphic? The same hero (or, in this case, perhaps it should be called an anti-hero) visual that has dominated Mad Men campaigns since day one: an illustrated silhouette of the 60s ad man shot from behind. With cigarette in the shown hand, and glass of scotch whiskey most certainly in the other hand or somewhere nearby, this is the iconic look the brand has claimed and fiercely hung onto, regardless of season or plot twist or character change or even Draper’s move to the west coast.
There are lessons to be gained from Mad Men’s rock solid branding – lessons that would behoove even the most modern of today’s advertising and marketing professionals. These days, it seems that brands change their taglines as often individuals change their underwear. While there are many reasons for this, one of the most common is simply a changing of the guard. Unlike the times of yore, the era that Mad Men endeavors to capture, people no longer work for the same company “for life.” That constant change means there is a new face, with a new ego, at the brand helm far too frequently. The new Mr. or Ms. Brand Manager wants to make their mark, and that often starts with a new positioning, a new tagline, a new ad campaign, maybe even some new packaging. All of that “new new new” causes consumer confusion, and before the public has had a chance to absorb the messaging, the next Mr. or Ms. Brand Manager enters and the cycle repeats.
While there is value in ensuring that a brand remains current and connected, that value should not come at the expense of the brand continuity. Timeless brands such as BMW (“The Ultimate Driving Machine”) and Nike (“Just Do It”) have created some of the most breakthrough advertising campaigns in their fields without disrupting the core essence of what defines their brands and makes them so special. Over the past eight years, Mad Men has stayed true to its brand essence as well, which is one of the show’s great strengths. It’s also one of the reasons the show has remained so popular within the cynical community that it mocks.
The ride is almost over. However, thanks to steadfast branding that reflects the incredibly unique content of the show itself, the Mad Men brand will live on long after audiences discover how the show ends.
Note: This post originally ran in my Examiner.com column. Please follow me there as well: http://www.examiner.com/article/as-mad-men-s-wild-ride-is-ending-branding-remains-strong