Mad Men, Citric Fruit, & My Diminishing Attention Sp- Ooh A Kitten!

by Alun Davies

I’m going to attempt something unheard of today, I’m going to talk about the TV series Mad Men without mentioning the obvious physical charms of Ms Christina Hendricks.

Ok, here goes (wish me luck, everyone)…

Mad Men returns to our TV screens this month and is one of my personal favourite shows. It’s a show that has become a real cultural touchstone, and has immense appeal to plenty of different groups, be it Don Draper’s hard-drinking and complex personal life, the writer’s rich storylines, the costumes and art direction, or Joan Harris’… personality (Wait, that doesn’t count!).

The show is particularly popular with those who currently work in the world of design, advertising and marketing; and for obvious reasons. It’s set in the heart of New York’s fabled Madison Avenue advertising culture at it’s creative and commercial height, it’s a beautifully shot show, and it is itself an advert for advertising.

Aside from the obvious cultural upheavals, one of the things it really shines a light on is how design and advertising has changed since the 60s. The 60s saw massive changes in terms of the way advertising portrayed its products and targeted consumers, some of these themes continue to this day in both print and online marketing, some of them… well, they were ‘of their time’ putting it politely. But whether it looks dated or still relevant, 60s advertising is always a fascinating subject to look into.

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make An Iconic Advert

Possibly the most famous and iconic advert of the early 60s was the Volkswagen ‘Lemon’ advert by Doyle Dane Bernbach. This is the advert:

VW Advert

VW Advert

Trying to explain the importance of this advert is kind of like trying to explain the importance of a classic band- it’s not necessarily how good they actually were, but it’s what followed it that shows their true greatness.

One of the first thing you notice with modern eyes is the 3 paragraphs of text(!) that it uses to explain it’s sales point. This was pretty standard at the time for print advertising, in fact this advert uses bodytext pretty sparingly compared to many of it’s contemporaries, but in this day & age it’d never get off the copywriter’s pad! Print advertising now, especially for global brands, has been distilled down to getting your entire company’s ethos over to your target market in, what, a 5 word sales line? A short, accompanying strap line to go with it if you’re lucky?

But this remains one of the most important pieces of design ever made. It was the first advert to really push a Unique Selling Point- the Car’s attention to detail- and used a tactic unknown to the world of Advertising- honesty, to change people’s impressions of this ‘funny little Nazi car.’ DDB knew to market the car the same way as the big Chryslers and Chevys of the time with their ‘get the car, get the girl, get the life you DESERVE’ style of promotion would’ve left the car dead in the water. So they played up to the car’s strengths- it’s precision to detail, it’s economical running, it’s practicality, and they were totally honest about the car’s shortcomings and used them as pluses instead of facts-to-hide-away-under-a-layer-of-gloss.

Art Director Sal Romano showing the VW Lemon advert to a bunch of puzzled ad men

Art Director Sal Romano showing the VW Lemon advert to a bunch of puzzled ad men

For example, take the copy from the ‘Think Small’ advert which followed the Lemon ad after the initial buzz created by the original had died:

The impact of these two adverts (and many more from VW and DDB) on the Advertising Industry and on how consumers were prepared to be sold to, really can’t be understated, and Mad Men themselves commented about the adverts early on in the show, with their copywriters baffled at this new style of marketing.

Smoke (& Advertising) Gets In Your Eyes

You can’t comment on both Mad Men and advertising from the Sixties without mentioning cigarettes. Everyone in the show (and indeed it seems, the Sixties) smokes. Their biggest client is Lucky Strike. It’s integral to the show. Smoking, and its sales patter, were unavoidable.

The Virginia Slims adverts were a great example of how advertisers attempted to move with the times, marketing traditionally non-feminine products to women

Virginia Slims

A great way of showing how Cigarette advertising reflected the times is through the Virginia Slims campaigns of the late 60s/Early 70s.

The Women’s Liberation Movement was in full swing on both sides of the Atlantic, and what did Women’s Libbers want more than anything? The vote? Possibly. Equal pay with men? Would be nice. But no, what they REALLY wanted, according to tobacco giant Phillip Morris, was their own brand of smokes.

Launched in 1968, Virginia Slims were marketed by Leo Burnett solely at young, professional women who wanted to symbolise their growing equality and freedom with a cigarette that was thinner and more elegant to hold than a traditional man’s cigarette, and the marketing was pitch-perfect.

The brand utilised imagery from the times of their target market’s Mothers and Grandmothers, hard at work over a stove, mop, or washing line, and combined them with aspirational images of (then) modern independent young women, immortalised with the strapline ‘You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby’ (Although the ‘baby’ part was dropped during the more politically correct 80s).

These adverts were in stark contrast to other, more prevalent adverts of the time, some of which took an approach that I don’t think you could exactly get away with today:

Yeah, of course she will mate.


A lot can be said about how advertisers market to men using unrealistic portrayals of women, and rightfully so, but they’d have to go a long way to be as derogatory as the above!

Advertising In The World Of 2 Seconds

2 Seconds. That’s how long your website/print advert/brochure has in order to win over a user according to recent statistics (talked about by Sarah recently). That’s really not a long time by any stretch of the imagination to get over your brand, your Unique Selling Point, and your sales message in an attractive, simple package that people are going to remember.

In many ways, the job advertisers do today, both in print and online, is far harder than our forebears in the 60s. We can’t expect our client base to take the time to read a great deal of text in our clients’ print adverts, their Unique Selling Points, or even their Call To Actions (which by nature have to be direct. ‘Click Here To Learn More’ works, ‘Click Here To Learn More And Here’s A Step-By-Step Breakdown As To Why You Should Click Here’ really doesn’t). Hell, if you’ve made it this far through the blog post and have only minimally skim-read, well done!

How NOT to target the right audience

Anatidaephobia - the fear of being watched by a duck

With the advent of the Internet over the last 20 years, we’ve seen a massive change in how advertising is approached and accepted. We live in a more instant age where we expect things to be quickly presented to us before moving onto the next one. It’s a golden age really, because as an industry we’re still finding out how a campaign that covers both print and online is best handled. We don’t need a generation of young, Madison Avenue executives to rip up the rulebook yet because the rulebook is still being written and it’s exciting, frankly. Elena Weinstein, part of DDB’s blogging team (a neat way of showing how they’ve moved with the times since the days of Lemons) agrees with this

But you can see that there is still an affinity with this hallowed Golden Age that advertisers just can’t help going gooey-eyed over. Recently, Newsweek challenged its advertisers and media buyers to theme their advertising for the March 2012 issue around the 60s to coincide with the return of Mad Men, and the challenge was lapped up.

But some things remain firmly in place. It’s still about making your client stand out for the right reasons, giving people the justification to go with one particular brand over another, and targeting the right audience (see the picture above). The best advertising of today may be condensed, focus-grouped, instant, but it is still memorable, eye-catching, and hard to avoid.

Just like Christina Hendricks’… Dammit!