A thirty foot tall Christina Hendricks won't drive me to drink.

Insane as it sounds, the “Mad Men” style isn’t always attractive

There’s a giant Christina Hendricks overlooking Manchester. But despite my undeniable affections for Ms Hendricks’ acting talents, I’m completely and utterly unmoved by her attempts to sell me Scotch whisky.

Because I’ve seen her try this thing with me before.

“Mad Men” advertising doesn’t work

The giant Johnnie Walker advert isn’t the first time a company has tried to leap aboard the Mad Men bandwagon. And it certainly won’t be the last. But despite the fact that there are a few genuinely good reasons for trying to inject some good old 1960s Madison Avenue glamour into your marketing campaigns, it’s not going to generate the same impact as good new, 2010s multimedia flair.

Why brands love the “Mad Men” style

It’s easy to see why brands and marketers alike want a bit of the Madison Avenue-via-US TV aesthetic. 

Brands want it, because it’s shorthand for class, sophistication and sex appeal. So if you want your customers to think of your brand as something that’s refined and luxurious (not to mention guaranteed to get you into someone glamorous’ pants), you can do all that with a simple call-back to Mad Men.

Marketers want it, because it makes us nostalgic for a time when half a bottle of whisky at lunch was a cert, and clients couldn’t email us at 3am on our Blackberries to quiz us on baroque aspects of viral marketing and social media profiling. What a life that would be! And as Don Draper himself would say, nostalgia is potent.

But even though I understand the attraction of all this Sixties suaveness, the 30 foot Christina won’t have me reaching for a bottle of Johnnie Walker any time soon. Although it does make me pause for a second and wonder. Couldn’t they come up with something new?

There’s a time and a place for the sixties style

99.9% of the time, that place was the 1960s. Ogilvy was right. Advertising has moved on since the Mad. Ave heyday, and no amount of trying to invoke a time when the creative could knock up a Kodak advert in between his breakfast Martini and lunchtime Old Fashioned can change that. And Ogilvy’s the man to tell you why:

It has been found that the less an advertisement looks like an advertisement, the more people will stop and look at it.

How astoundingly prescient. It’s as if David Ogilvy could predict the interactive lifestyle coaching of the Old Spice adverts, or the seemingly spontaneous marketing messages of flash mobs. He couldn’t, of course, but he could see that the “pretty girl + overly direct call to action” formula wouldn’t last in an overcrowded marketplace.

When we’re bombarded with memorable taglines, adverts that try to tell stories, and interactive attempts to entice us, a pointed-finger clunker of a line just won’t cut it. And “It’s classic. It’s bold. It’s Johnnie Walker. And you ordered it.” Is one massive clunker.

It seems clear that a 30 foot tall Christina Hendricks telling you you’ve ordered a Johnnie Walker, while sure to generate Twitter conversations between the lecherous locals, can’t compete with the multi-platform, multimedia assault that the modern day ad agency can provide.

But even if it could, you should still stop and ask yourself. Just who is a Mad Men style ad going to promote? You? Your client? Or someone else entirely?

You’re not building your own brand

There’s one reason above all others that marketers need to steer clear of channelling Mad Men. And it’s this. I’ve seen these adverts before.

I’ve seen Christina Hendricks offering a man a bottle of scotch. Only she was Joan Harris at the time, offering a whisky to Don Draper. So when I see an advert with Joan in costume, next to a strapline that could’ve spilled from Draper’s tumbler, I don’t think of Johnnie Walker.

I think of Mad Men.

So unless you’re trying to sell me a Mad Men DVD, drop the act. Build a brand for the product you’re trying to sell me. Otherwise I’m going to wander off, trying to find words to describe the flame-haired glamazon that is Christina Hendricks.

And once she’s in my head, your products just aren’t going to fit.


Disclaimer: This post is in no way endorsed by Johnnie Walker. It may have been part-written by Laphroaig, and part-edited by Resolve, but that’s by the by. Unless you’re working for either of those companies and want to send me a free sample. Get in touch if you do.

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