Those are the words Sterling Cooper’s Don Draper exclaimed to his young copy writer protégé, Peggy Olson. To anyone who isn’t a fan, I’m referring to AMC’s smash hit television series ‘Mad Men’. Draper is the lead character and creative director of this fictional early 60s ad agency. But, the meaning behind this phrase is oh so real.
Here’s a little background on it. Two episodes ago, Peggy was given the challenging assignment to create a breakthrough ad campaign that would entice the female masses to purchase a new concept— diet cola. The opening of this episode begins with Peggy and her colleagues (all men) watching a clip of Ann Margaret’s 1963 sexy performance of ‘Bye, Bye, Birdie.' While all the men are enraptured with raw sexual excitement as they watch Ann flirt shamelessly with the camera, Peggy is visibly offended at the office dynamics.
Fast forward to the next important part. Peggy is pretty much forced into trying to utilize the likeness of this famous movie scene into her creative campaign. She tells her boss (Don Draper) that this would only offend woman (showing her obvious disdain for the idea,) instead of achieving the opposite goal of appealing to calorie conscious females everywhere. As she’s about to suggest another, more cerebral, possibly less offbeat strategy, Draper interrupts her with an oldie but a goodie in the advertising world, “It will work because men want her and women want to be her.” He then reminds her of the headline above. (You’re not an artist. You solve problems.)
So, what’s my point (you may be asking)? This show is wonderful to me because it’s truly grounded in the real issues/challenges that agencies go through each and every week. It’s fascinating that the styles and specifics might have changed in 40 years, but the same annoying dilemmas remain the same.
I’ve worked at two very large ad agencies. In both cases, I’ve met many creative executives who just could not figure out that they are really supposed to be problem solvers. Instead, their prima donna, egotistical attitudes turn what should be results driven campaigns into “I need to dazzle the client with the most breathtaking creative possible.” Many times, the allure of big awards and celebrity status within the ad industry get the best of them. And, the worst part about it as that some of them are so stubborn that they just won’t back down… even if the strategy doesn’t follow a clear and concise strategy of where the campaign should be.
One clear memory I have is when a top creative at my former agency developed this hip, very stylish (almost outlandish) annual report for an insurance company client. The problem was that this insurance company was/is incredibly conservative and even dull. The senior account person in charge of the business begged the creative director to change the strategy to come across as smart and seasoned versus hip because that’s what the client wanted and (more importantly) that’s what would resonate with this company’s investors. But, the creative director would have nothing of the kind. I think his words to the account person were, “I hate this type of boring creative concept. Insurance companies need to change their images with more provocative advertising. No one wants to see this tired look anymore.”
This battle soon became a war that I had to step into to calm everyone down. And, it was all because a creative director wanted to march to his own beat, not having a care in the world about what problems he should be solving (versus creating.)
In this case, is Draper right? Who knows… there is a lot of gray in every creative campaign. But, his simple strategy seems to make sense (at least for those times.) The key point here (though) is that Peggy completely loses her focus around what might be best for the client (vis a vis a good strategy that can solve problems.) And instead, her only thought is about personal preferences (in this case that the svelte and sexy 60s star is offending her senses.)
This show is just chock full of real situations that continue to happen in the 21st century agency world. I’ll save my next case in point (about the Madison Square Garden account) for another post later this week.