Like many college students, I found almost any excuse to reward myself with a Netflix binge. The show “Mad Men” fed into my love of the 1960s and the growing advertising industry. The show depicts the migration of opinions and highlights several progressive moments that have affected the U.S. to this day, especially the advertising industry.

Not only was I challenged to evaluate their time period and industry, but those influences affected how I view and create designs now.

Everything Needs an Identity

Courtesy of Giphy

Don Draper, the show’s main protagonist, is the creative director at an agency and consistently pushes his department to dig deeper into an account. Each brand has a story, and each story needs to be told in an effective and interesting way. He pushes more out of each person and demands the best quality for their accounts.

I use this idea of developing a brand’s story into my own workflow.  And I use it at the beginning of a project to give myself a clear direction. There are thousands of products out there–some very similar to the one I’m trying to promote. So what is its charm? What tells their audience this is the right product for them compared to all of the other ones? Figure out these answers, and the process becomes a lot easier.

When in Doubt, Try It Out

Courtesy of Giphy

Courtesy of Giphy

Certain clients’ industries are not easy to relate to, and to sell a product, you should know its purpose. There were several real products featured on “Mad Men,” Heinz ketchup for one, and the creative department needed to test it out. What could their audience do with it? How would it make their lives better? Would they come back for more?

It’s beneficial for the marketer to test their client’s product or service out to appropriately depict how good their audience will feel after using it. After all, you wouldn’t promote a television series unless you’ve seen at least one episode, right?

Gender Always Applies

Courtesy of Giphy

Courtesy of Giphy

Peggy Olson and Joan Harris are the main female figures at the agency who rose from their starting secretarial positions. Peggy comes into season 1 hoping to land a copywriter position. She proves she’s worthy enough for this new role but has to work twice as hard as the male copywriters to even get a glance. And even then she often wonders if Don appreciates the work she does.

Although times have moved past this confining period, fair wage and equal opportunity is still an ongoing concern within this country. Additionally, if you are actively reading and watching advertisements in today’s world, sex matters. Marketers look at their target audience and try to figure out what they want, especially from the opposite sex.

Know Your Audience

Courtesy of Giphy

In one episode, Don Draper comes up with a slogan for Jaguar of “Finally, something beautiful you can truly own.” He knows the audience and how people long to have a part of something bigger than themselves. When I’m working on a project, I often think about Don’s slogans and how they tap into the audience perfectly. I try to come up with something that suits the buyer persona, even if it is only for my own use.

It is next to impossible to create something with good user experience (UX) if you don’t fully understand those who will use the product. Creating a positive interaction with site visitors requires knowing who they are. You must understand more than just their age and gender. Dig deeper into what makes them tick and the psychology behind your audience.

Loyalty Is Everything

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Loyalty might be the last thing you think about when considering the show “Mad Men.” After all, the characters are anything but loyal to one another, and many are just out for themselves. However, it comes into play through the clients who are loyal to the firm. In one episode, the agency considers whether it should represent Heinz Ketchup. However, Heinz Beans, who has been a long-time client, asks the company not to. Don says, “Sometimes, you’ve got to dance with the one who brung you.” He points out the importance of remaining loyal to long-time clients.

I use this advice by working hard to develop strong relationships with my clients. The work is a give and take. Over time, I’ve learned how to communicate with each company. It only makes sense to remain loyal to the one who brings me consistent working rather than going after their competitors. The last thing I want to do is alienate the people who are my bread and butter.

Not Every Strategy Works for Every Audience

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Don talks to a client about using coupons. He tells her that “housewives love coupons.” However, she isn’t convinced. She knows the clientele she wants to attract, and she wants people who come to her store because things are expensive. She wants to create a feeling of luxury for her brand.

When figuring out the best approach for a campaign, I often think of this episode and how the business owner understands their customers better than anyone. It’s my job to gather the information needed to come up with the right approach to reach them. I might think a coupon is a good idea to draw people into a store, and it very well might accomplish that. However, if the store owner doesn’t want to offer discounts, then the idea is a bust.

Not All Surprises Are Bad

Courtesy of Giphy

Don Draper meets with Lucky Strike cigarettes and has no idea how to market the brand. The client reps are angry, but at the last minute, Don has an epiphany. He basically says everyone is going to argue that cigarettes aren’t that bad for you, so their campaign really needs to stand out. They come up with the idea that the tobacco is toasted. The implication is that it makes them healthier than other brands.

“Mad Men” taught me that you don’t always have to have all the answers. You can count on others who know a product better or have more insight and work together to brainstorm a great idea. Sometimes, a surprise ending is exactly what a project needs to find success.


More Work Means More Sacrifice

A majority of the main executives at the agency have either been married several times or have never gotten married. Plus, many are hard drinkers and smoke several packs of cigarettes a day. The toll on their mental and physical health can be seen throughout the course of the show.

The agency’s leaders are constantly at the office assisting clients and helping promote to their audience but forgetting their own families back at home. Don is one of the guiltier parties in this case because he doesn’t notice his marriage is failing. Plus, his kids, primarily Sally, act out at times to get his attention.

I’ve learned that work, in any industry, is needed in moderation. If you have too much of anything, it can kill you. I enjoy working with people and producing great designs, but nothing truly beats spending time with your friends and family.



This article was originally published on 9/22/2016 and updated on 12/16/2019.

About the author

Lexie Lu

Hello! My name is Lexie and I have a fervor for design, writing, and coffee. I graduated with a dual major in Creative Writing and Commercial Design, and through those grueling study hours (facilitated by coffee, of course) I always found time to write for myself.

My posts feature design trends throughout all industries and show how the field is always changing. There’s never a dull moment in the design world!

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