The Noodle

Remembering Madison Avenue

How the advertising game has evolved since the "Mad Men" days

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”  – Don Draper from Mad Men

The NFL season has just kicked off, but already advertisers are gearing up for Super Bowl XLVIII, the premier showcase for the ad industry. There’s usually as much hype about the commercials airing during the Super Bowl than there is about the pigskin rivalry on the gridiron.

In 2013, numerous companies spent $4 million each for a 30-second spot, and in the Mad Men tradition, esteemed advertising executives devoted countless hours creating commercials that would engage and be remembered by the 108 million viewers. Doritos was this year’s creative MVP for the second year running with their Goat 4 Sale” ad, winning both the most-liked and most-memorable honors, according to Nielsen.

The ad that captured the hearts and minds of viewers didn’t originate at an iconic Madison Avenue agency…or any agency at all for that matter. It was the whim of a couple of creative young guns at a small Atlanta-based production company, Pogo Pictures. Directors Ben Callner and Steve Colby co-wrote the spot that chronicles the short-lived friendship between a Doritos-loving man and his Doritos-loving goat, Moose. Inspired by the antics of Colby’s goats, the celebrated commercial was an entry in Doritos’ annual “Crash the Super Bowl” contest.

Animals, babies and cleavage

“Steve came in one day and said something like, ‘You know, my goats’ eating food and crunching is really funny.’ And then he just left,” Callner recalls. “Steve is a quirky guy – heck, he has goats and he lives in the city – so when he said this, I didn’t think too much of it. But then he said it again, and again, and finally followed it with, ‘We should make a Doritos commercial.’ And we started pulling it together.”

Callner jokes that the success of the ad was based on a tried-and-true formula. “It’s an old cliché – feature an animal, a baby or cleavage.  We had a goat, so we went with a goat.” Callner says they actually spent time exploring what was successful in the past and ultimately decided to use the 30 seconds to tell a funny story. “The way to engage viewers is to entertain them. A goat eating chips is hilarious. And that scream – who knew goats could scream like that.”

Crowd sourcing ads with a contest is becoming a successful advertising formula for Doritos. Since 2007, a Doritos ad has landed in the top five favorite ads inUSA Today’s AdMeter. The entries are made by users, and fans select the finalists with their votes, creating a lot of pre-Super Bowl buzz and game-day media hype. “All the tweeting and lobbying for votes in social media as well as print and broadcast media was pretty intense. I felt like I was campaigning for political office,” says Callner, whose commercial was one of five contest finalists. “Goat 4 Sale” received national media attention from CNN, Fox, NBC, CBS and, not surprisingly, Doritos was the most mentioned brand in the social media sphere during the game as goat fever raged.

Screen-based, digital and interactive

It’s pretty simple. I’m not the first to say it but you can drill the future of advertising down to three thoughts: screen-based, digital and interactivity.

Ben Callner, Director, Pogo Pictures

Callner predicts that crowd sourcing ads will become even more popular in the future, and leading Madison Avenue advertising executives concur. Robert Harwood-Matthews, president of TBWAChiatDay New York, a Top-10 worldwide advertising agency, says that interactivity is key in advertising’s future. “It’s pretty simple. I’m not the first to say it but you can drill the future of advertising down to three thoughts: screen-based, digital and interactivity. The future will see agencies more adept in user interface, in collecting and analyzing data, in seeing the internet in everything – literally – and in playing and experimenting with how brands live in the world.”

Harwood-Matthews notes that with expanding technology, the advertising industry has evolved dramatically since the “Mad Men” days chronicled and glamorized in AMC’s award-winning dramatic series that spotlights Sterling Cooper, a 1960s era Madison Avenue advertising agency led by Don Draper’s creative genius.

The business of advertising is still all about people and creativity at its heart, but it is how we make brands live in the world that counts, more so now than ever.

Robert Harwood-Matthews, President, TBWA/Chiat/Day New York

“The business of advertising is still all about people and creativity at its heart, but it is how we make brands live in the world that counts, more so now than ever,” he says. “That means we’re all adapting to better use of technology – to reach deeper into people’s lives, and to capture the data that comes out of it. Humans can be unpredictable, but we also share values and follow societal bonds. The ‘Mad Men’ knew this and just played to shared values and society at large. My data teams now talk about correlation and causality; we’ve simply got more detail on the when, the where and the why than the ‘Mad Men’ ever could have imagined. We can see the unpredictability and play with it. We can know huge trends, but never need to really understand them. It’s the same world; it’s just loaded, dripping with new data and information.”

And while the advertising industry has changed immeasurably in this way, Harwood-Matthews contends that in some ways it hasn’t changed at all. “That’s why we look at ‘Mad Men’ and have empathy. Script writers know that we look in and see a cartoon version of our own lives, whatever the workplace. We see the unreasonable demands, the illicit affairs, the politics and we recline on our sofas with a whiskey and smile knowingly to ourselves, just like Don would.”

Animals, shoes and…farmers?

Another new advertising model fueled by increased technology and subsequent hyper-communication is cultural movement marketing. “Something significant has changed in our global culture over the past couple of years. The net result is that we, as business leaders, are now dealing with a populace that is more socially engaged, more aware of what’s going on in the world, and hungrier to get involved and be heard on various issues,” says Scott Goodson, co-founder and CEO of Strawberryfrog, one of the leading micro agency networks in the world and the first cultural movement agency.

In the “Mad Men” era, revolution was associated with the counter culture and generally not considered the basis of a sound marketing strategy. But Goodson contends that smart businesses today find a way to connect with that passion and activism. “If you fail to respond to this shift in the culture, you run the risk of being out of step with your customers. Your company could end up looking like a ‘status quo’ brand in a revolutionary world.”

Goodson pioneered the movement-marketing model in 1999, working for brands such as Smart Car and IKEA. As he worked on his book about movement marketing, “Uprising,” he encountered everything from a pet food company that launched an animal welfare initiative (Pedigree) to a shoemaker that began a worldwide movement to put shoes on kids’ feet (Toms). “In each case, a company rallied people around an idea that mattered, an idea on the rise in culture, enabling customers to become activists. In the process, the company demonstrated that it was engaged in people’s lives and cared about something more than just profits.”

Do not build your campaign around your product. Rather understand your brand purpose or brand benefit, and then align this to an idea on the rise in culture. Brands must engage with culture.

Scott Goodson, Co-founder & CEO of Strawberryfrog

Goodson contends that cultural movement marketing is the future of advertising. “Do not build your campaign around your product. Rather understand your brand purpose or brand benefit, and then align this to an idea on the rise in culture. Brands must engage with culture.”

Cultural movement marketing was a successful strategy for another popular Super Bowl XLVII commercial. Do you remember the much-discussed Dodge Ram “Farmer” commercial that featured a voiceover tribute by the late and legendary radio icon Paul Harvey?

The spot exalted farm life in America and reminded viewers of how rural values – perseverance and hard work – are the foundation of this great nation. Members of the growing anti-agribusiness movement loved it and created their own version spoofing factory farms. Authentic and wannabe farmers apparently loved it as well. Online consideration of the Ram brand and trucks leaped on Super Bowl evening and for days. The brand also donated $1 million to the National FFA Organization (formerly the Future Farmers of America) based on YouTube viewing numbers.

Chrysler CMO Olivier Francois says that the “Farmer” spot and follow-up actions by Chrysler to mark what it calls “the year of the farmer” are persuading Ford, GM, Toyota and Nissan customers to consider Ram trucks too. Ram truck sales for July were up 31 percent over last July and up 24 percent for the year. It was the best July since 2007. Correlation or causality?  Either way, it appears that The Richards Group, the Dallas-based agency that created the commercial, scored with this marketing strategy.

Super Bowl XLVIII in February ’14 likely will showcase new innovations and changes in the advertising industry. And as Don Draper says, “Change is neither good nor bad…it simply is.”

By Lorrie Bryan