7 Social Media Marketing Lessons from Mad Men

July 22nd, 2010 No Comments

Mad Men may depict the ad world of the 1960s, but the lessons of this successful AMC show depicting the Madison Avenue world of 50 years ago still has a lot of relevance in today’s digital environment of 2010 and beyond.

While Don Draper barely respected the world of the television commercial and certainly couldn’t have imagined Wikipedia or Facebook, there is still a lot we can learn — including the mistakes — from the Sterling Cooper team.

Apologies but I can’t embed most clips that are on YouTube, so check out the links.

7. The Medium is the Message – While a bit anachronistic in the preceding clip, the phrase the medium is the message is even more true over social media.

The phrase was introduced in Marshall McLuhan’s most widely known book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964. McLuhan proposes that a medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study. For example, McLuhan claimed in Understanding Media that all media have characteristics that engage the viewer in different ways; for instance, a passage in a book could be reread at will, but a movie had to be screened again in its entirety to study any individual part of it. So the medium through which a person encounters a particular piece of content would have an effect on the individual’s understanding of it.

This is true today as well. Different social networks should be utilized differently. Content appropriate for Twitter may not be appropriate for Facebook. Different people use and create material differently, as well – what Forrester calls the Social Technographics Profile. McLuhan’s research is just as relevant today.

6. Strategy is the strength. The core of marketing is still key — branding and positioning rule. Strategy matters. Social media requires more than just an ability to update a Facebook status or send a tweet. It requires an understanding of branding and strategy. The message still matters. Knowing your target audience is key — as clearly Don Draper gets it when he convinces a client that the ad agency gets it and Sterling Cooper’s strategy will lead to success – instead of the company’s initial ideas-  in the clip here.

5. Write Well – Copy and creativity matter. The Sterling Cooper team turned the drab idea of the Kodak Slideshow – which defined a generation – into the iconic Kodak Carousel. The product was the same: a common slide projector. But would people have bought the Kodak Wheel? Probably not. The same product, but different branding and a different story: a product that defined a generation.

There will be a difference in the number of fans and attractors depending on what your brand’s name is, depending on what your website’s URL is, what your Facebook page is named or your twitter handle. What content you send out matters. Good writing matters and, yes, content is still king — just the definion of good content takes many more factors into account. It’s not about the product, it’s about the experience.

Don Draper turned a slide projector into an iconic moment in this clip.

4. Efficiency Matters because an Upstart is Around the Corner — While the Sterling Cooper is drinking all day, taking expensive vacations, and going to the upper-crust parties, someone is just around the corner, being more efficient, and out to get your business. Today that kind of waste doesn’t cut it. And while you were out drinking, someone else is coding today and developing the next startup. Do you want to remain relevant? Then stay on your toes.

3. It’s about feeling, not feature – Social is the first word in “social media.” The job title of the person in charge of implementing your brand’s presence on social networks is frequently referred to as “community management.” People need to feel a part of a community. They need to feel good about your brand. Your customers don’t care about your latest engineering feat or that your classes use video and audio. These are important things that may be needed in order to the end result but it won’t sell. Instead, people care about how it makes them feel. Peggy is right: “What we are selling is confidence, a better you.” It’s about feeling, not feature.

2. Change is Inevitable – It’s not by accident that Mad Men begins in the 1960s. The sexual revolution. The move from print to radio to television. The iconic role that television played during that generation in people’s experiences – from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the Vietnam War and the rise of feminism was a dramatic change. Bert Cooper started Sterling Cooper but he needed the younger Don Draper and Roger Sterling, Jr. (son of the co-founder, along with Bert, of Sterling Cooper) to continue it. Draper and Sterling then needed the younger team of Peggy and Pete and Harry to remain relevant and implement for the future. Draper and Sterling’s business acumen was much higher but they needed their younger and more inexperienced team to keep them relevant. Embrace change because it is today.

Embrace change and your younger team. If you want it to work, treat your younger team with respect, as Peggy explains in this clip.

1. Embrace New Technology – Today’s social media is yesterday’s TV. Yesterday’s TV is last week’s radio and newspaper.

Today’s new technology is tomorrow’s old technology. When Harry Crane decides that television is important, the team laughs at him. In the end, they make him the TV department — because they didn’t value TV. In the end, Harry is one of the most important members of the team. Do you have an intern or recent grad in charge of social media? What does that say about your priorities? Are you putting Harry Crane in charge of your most important department? In a few years, they’ll be the entire organization and the only one left.

Don Draper has descended  – but still plays a role and is still the figurehead. But Harry Crane is the one that does the work and gets the job done.

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