Why Don Draper Is Toast

One of the biggest global TV hits of the past few years has been Mad Men—a program about the birth of consumerism in the traditional advertising world, which aired primarily on “traditional” media. Not only does the success of this show help to make the point that so-called traditional media is not yet dead, but it is also a great demonstration of the shift from a world of image to a world of reality.

The marketer’s job used to be about creating the best possible image for any product. No matter how divorced from the truth that image might have been.

Consider the signature “It’s toasted.” It sounds like the slogan for a delicious and nutritious food product. But the following exchange from the above-mentioned TV show reveals it is anything but:

Don Draper: This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal. We have six identical companies making six identical products. We can say anything we want. How do you make your cigarettes?

Lee Garner, Jr.: I don’t know.

Lee Garner, Sr.: Shame on you. We breed insect-repellent tobacco seeds, plant them in the North Carolina sunshine, grow it, cut it, cure it, toast it.

Don Draper: There you go. There you go. [Writes on chalkboard and underlines: “IT’S TOASTED.”]

Lee Garner, Jr.: But everybody else’s tobacco is toasted.

Don Draper: No. Everybody else’s tobacco is poisonous. Lucky Strike’s…is toasted.

Don Draper’s line, “We can say anything we want,” may have been a mantra for marketers and advertisers in the past century, but we now live in a world where reality, not image, is everything.

Naomi Klein’s best-selling book No Logo purported that people would no longer be interested in brands. Whether you buy into that theory or not—and I personally don’t, as I think in a world of more and more messages, shorter and shorter attention spans, and smaller and smaller screens, brands will become more not less important to navigate the clutter—the one thing that is certain today is that consumers are increasingly interested in the company behind the brand and what that company believes in and stands for.

In today’s open world, it’s incredibly difficult for a company to pretend it is something it is not. Someone, somewhere, will find out and share that with the world. People are now interested in who makes the products they buy. So far from “saying anything” and creating a great image for your product or company, the key to today’s successful social brand is to create or identify the best possible reality and share that with as many people as possible and to actually make that reality better in the first place.

Perhaps the best recent example of reality in marketing is the Domino’s Pizza campaign in North America. What Domino’s did went against every previous marketing convention. Rather than hide the research that said that people thought their products tasted really bad—with consumer comments ranging from “like cardboard” to “not much love in that”—they shared them with the entire world in their television advertising and used them as the platform for a very successful turnaround. And in the next development of their campaign, they actually started showing the food in their advertising the way it really looks, rather than spending hours prepping and heavily retouching it to look amazing. The approach seems to be working. At the time of writing, same-store sales have grown 14 percent year on year. Proof that honesty really is the best policy.

Another great example is the Dulux Let’s Color campaign. Let’s Color is the platform for Dulux’s bigger-picture mission to bring color to brighten up grey spaces around the world—the creative execution of it was to actually engage the local communities in poor areas of Rio in Brazil, Jodhpur in India, and London and Paris and to film them painting depressing and dreary places with bright vibrant color. This real footage of real people painting real places was then shared with the world.

Reality doesn’t just extend to marketing communications, however. It extends to every area of the mix. For those people worried that their reality isn’t quite as good as they would like, they needn’t be. Today’s social consumer is more interested in honesty than perfection. Walmart and Marks & Spencer are completely transparent in reporting how they are performing against numerous ethical targets they have set themselves. When they fail, they say by how much and what they are going to do about it. This gives much greater credibility to the things that they say they have accomplished.

Other companies, such as Starbucks, are now following this template of honesty in their reporting around social responsibility. Businesses that seek to gloss over or omit where they have fallen short will be regarded as dishonest. The digitally empowered Prosumer who decides he or she doesn’t like what a business is doing is to be feared—and actually, I would argue, much more so than regulatory bodies. Advertising and communications campaigns can be hijacked in a single click and turned into a liability rather than an asset.

David Jones is global CEO of Havas and Euro RSCG Worldwide, and cofounder of One Young World.

Excerpted from Who Cares Wins: Why Good Business Is Better Business (Pearson/FT Publishing, December 2011), this post is running simultaneously on this site and our sister blog, prosumer-report.com. Buy the book on Amazon.

Image credit: Creative Commons/clotho98@flickr.com (Lucky Strike)

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