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'Mad Men' has method after all, firm says

Local marketing service offers 5 lessons from AMC program


Actor Jon Hamm portrays Don Draper, the creative director of the fictional advertising agency in 'Mad Men,' set in the 1960s.

AMC Enlarge

The days of swilling bourbon shortly after sunup in a high-rise full of cigarette smoke may be gone, but the basic tenets of what makes people buy things haven't really changed since the days depicted in AMC's Mad Men drama.

"People's motivations are not much different in 1963 than they are today," said B.J. Fischer, director of strategic services at Toledo-based FLS Marketing. "The world's different, but people's needs -- to feel loved, taken care of, and to feel happy with a new product -- those are things that are universal. The world changes, but these human needs sort of are the same."

Mad Men chronicles a New York ad agency in the early 1960s and is rife with sharp suits, strong drinks, and questionable morals.

While the antics displayed in the acclaimed show may be trumped up, solid strategies are still on exhibit for a high-flying agency working during advertising's golden age.

The folks at FLS Marketing took on the tedious task of combing through episode after episode of the award-winning drama to gather five lessons that are applicable today. They presented those Thursday at a Toledo Area Small Business Association luncheon at the Hilton Hotel Toledo.

"Other than some bad habits and some bad behavior, there are some lessons there," Creative Director Ed Hunter said.

He and Mr. Fischer boiled them down like this: have a unique point of view; be authentic, but do it carefully; change the conversation when you don't like what is being said; sell the feelings, not just the product, and bear down on one strategy, not two.

The session was light, and it was not meant to be a solve-all for firms in attendance.

Rather, it intended to entertain and give people some basic points to think about related to their own marketing strategies.

In one short clip FLS showed, it was suggested an auto-parts supplier run with a tag line that says it's the place for professional shops and do-it-yourselfers.

"That's not a strategy," Mad Men protagonist Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, says. "That's two strategies connected by the word 'and.' "

Mr. Fischer said he thinks that is perhaps the most germane lesson for small-business owners. Though it can be scary to hone in on one strategy when they're trying to attract as broad a clientele as possible, doing two at once almost never works.

"I just think so many people, when they try to make a small business, they try to make it something for everybody, as opposed for finding a market or position for themselves that's unique and their own. For me, that's the most important thing for any company, big and small," he said.

In another scene from an episode in which the Draper character is working with the group that wants to raze the historic Penn Station to build Madison Square Garden, he responds to frustration over the public-relations beating the Madison Square Garden folks are taking by saying, "If you don't like what's being said, change the conversation."

FLS said firms in that position need to find a truthful message that resonates with their audience. That's what Chrysler Group LLC did with its 2011 Super Bowl spot.

"There is a stigma toward the quality of the American-made car, and a stigma to the quality and luxury of the American brands, so they had the 'Imported from Detroit' campaign to change the conversation, not just about Chrysler and their cars, but tangentially about the city of Detroit," Mr. Fischer said.

Christine Bailey, communications manager with the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the sessions with FLS are always well-attended. "Who couldn't use a marketing update from time to time, and people like this one?" she said. "We get a decent crowd because they always bring fresh information, they change it up, and they keep it entertaining."

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: or 419-724-6134.

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