Mad Men and The History of Marketing

As season six of Mad Men comes to a close, we wanted to look back at the history of marketing since the 1960s. It’s fascinating to look back and see what kind of advertising has had the longest impact.

A lot of what’s great about Mad Men is the kind of self-reflection it has, both on its characters and the culture. In many ways, the kind of advertising back then still influences many of the designs we see in advertising today. The Volkswagen “think small” campaign is particularly interesting, as in many ways, it reminds me of Apple’s iPod and iPhone advertising campaigns. Both have a particular simple approach to it, as well as a focus on typography. Even then, simple concepts and design made a brand completely unique and signature. It’s one of the best approaches to design and a way to make it last. The simpler it is, the less it’s anchored and dated by time.

It’s important to keep in mind the changes that advertising has gone through in the past few decades. One of my favorite facts here is that email was really invented before the Internet was. ARPANET was the predecessor of what would become the Internet, but email was invented within it through the 60s and 70s. Lucky Strike, one of the clients of Sterling Cooper and a popular American brand in the 60s, was bought out by British Tobacco in the 70s. Technology has, however, offered rapid growth for advertising. By 2012, Internet marketing hit $39 billion in revenue. Mad Men itself is a good example of this. While the show itself gets modest ratings, the studio that owns the rights to it signed a deal with Netflix to stream all of its seasons for around $75 million. People in general are watching TV less and are using alternative and more selective ways to experience content.

As a fan of the show, I think the show has as much to say about current times as it does about the time it takes place in. It’s important to remember what has changed and what hasn’t. Good design and content last in many different ways. I’m reminded of the scene in the season three finale where Don, Roger and Lane decided to build something different – something of their own. It’s a great scene and pretty motivating to watch. Don’t get bored. Be creative. Perspective is necessary to have to keep getting better, and it’s what makes Mad Men one of our favorite shows.

Leave a Reply