Like many people living in the Middle East, I’m always itching for new content to be available on Netflix. I was pleasantly surprised that Mad Men had finally made the roster, so much so I decided to re-watch the series.  For those of you not familiar with the show, there are only three things you need to know:

  1. It’s set in the 1960’s at “Sterling Cooper”, an advertising agency in New York City
  2. Don Draper, the agency’s creative director, is the Michael Jordan of advertisers.
  3. Anyone that works in an agency, communications, or marketing needs to binge watch this show, it will make you better at your job.

The first time I watched the series I was working in a traditional “offline” agency, so I found the similarities (and differences) between my agency and Sterling Cooper fascinating.  I thought the series wouldn’t be as relevant to me the second time around, considering my work if fully digital, but if you look deep enough, you’ll find some lessons worth learning; below are my favorites:

1 – Product Testing:  Whether a digital agency is managing social media, influencer outreach, or even website development, it is critical for the agency to get their hands on the product; this will not only give the team inspiration when creating content or a campaign, it will help them discover new and untapped USP’s and view the product from the consumer’s perspective.  Mad Men show us this practice almost every time they bring on a new client, just beware of the heavy machinery.

2 – Research:  This ties in with product testing to a certain degree.  While in the 1960’s they did not have the same analytical tools we have at our disposal today, they relied heavily on the limited data that they had to make both creative and media decisions. Today agencies that are weak in research get left behind.  Consultancies like Accenture, PwC, and Deloitte have entered the digital marketing world not only because they have a strong understanding of strategy, they know how to leverage listening tools, Google Analytics, programmatic advertising platforms, and user experience optimization software to make sound decisions.

3 – Client Relations: Successful agencies become successful by having good creative and good client servicing; without both working together the agency will almost always come up short. The client/agency relationship is built on trust and it is up to CS team members to build that rapport. While computers, PowerPoint, Skype, and email make our jobs much easier and more efficient, we tend to lose sight of the importance of a face to face meeting. Creating award winning work means taking risks, risks won’t happen without trust, and trust is an ongoing process; it’s the way agencies have operated for decades.

4 – Millenials:  This might be surprising since the series is set around the time that Millenials’ parents were being born, but every once in a while, Sterling Cooper faces this request from their clients.. ”we need to sell our products to younger people” ..sound familiar?  In Mad Men, they solved this problem by hiring freelance creatives to work on specific briefs and in today’s world, the exact same thing can be done.  I can’t count how many times an intern has attended a brainstorming session and planted the seed for the big campaign we were working on.

But the even bigger lesson to be learned is the concept of the illusive Millenial is not going away. Eventually they will grow old and brands will want to start targeting the next generation. This shouldn’t be a surprise as this the natural order of the evolving consumer. Students graduate university and enter the workforce.  While entry level salaries nominal, this is the most money a fresh graduate has ever had at their disposal, almost redefining the term disposable income. These new consumers are the first in line to consider purchasing a new car, new clothes, or the latest mobile phone and brands rely on their agencies, whether online or offline, to speak their language and attract them to their products.

#FunFact:  In the 1980’s they were called “Yuppies”, which stood for “Young Urban Professionals”.

What lessons did you pick up from watching Mad Men? Please let me know in the comment section below.

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