Could Don Draper get a job in 2013?

Editor's picks MediumThis post was written for Medium and took off pretty quickly, making it to the platform’s most recommended page and editor’s picks in the first 24 hours.

Thought I would share it here, too.

Was written as an introduction to a book that I’ve been to lazy to make much progress on. But if the sun doesn’t come out for a month or so, perhaps I’ll keep going.

If you don’t use Medium, you should check it out, both as a reader and a content creator. It’s an elegant platform and the right content can scale quickly.

 

“Edward, there’s a Don Draper here to see you.”

 

“OK, I’ll be right out.”

 

Don stood in the lobby, a black portfolio case in his right hand. He stared out the window at a Heineken sign painted on the side of an exposed brick building across the lot.

 

“Now that’s a poster,” he said turning to face me.  “Don Draper.”

 

It certainly was a poster. As boring and traditional as a poster could be. Green background. Big picture of the bottle. A logo.

 

“Sure is,” I nodded.

 

We walked past the receptionist, down an extra wide flight of stairs to the creative department below. I wasn’t really looking forward to this conversation.

 

“Are we meeting in your office?” asked the legendary CD.

 

“Actually I don’t have an office. None of us have offices anymore, Don.  As you can see, we just have open space. Long tables. Laptops we can carry with us up to the cafe if we want a change of pace. Even the conference rooms have glass doors so everyone feels more connected.”

 

“No offices?”

 

He seemed confused.

 

“I mean where would you, what happens when….”

 

There was a pause.

 

“When you want to bang your secretary?” I finished the sentence for him. “ Not a problem, Don. We don’t have secretaries anymore either. We do our own typing, correspondence, appointments.”

 

“Oh.”

We passed some large walls with work in progress pinned to them. Video games, apps, charts that showed user experience journeys and a few key frames for a new mobile experience.

 

“We can just sit here. Have a seat.” I gestured to a couple of stools at an elevated bench in the middle of the creative department. I figured Don might feel more comfortable sitting at a bar height table.”

 

“At least you have a bar. That’s great.”

 

“Actually it’s not a bar. Just a place to stand and work. People like to work standing up these days. Better for you.”

 

Don looked at me with some skepticism.

 

Clearly the concept of doing anything in an ad agency from a vertical position was a foreign concept to my guest.

 

“So you want to see my book, or should we just talk about the job?”

 

“Let’s look at the book.”

 

He unzipped a Utrecht black leather portfolio case to reveal a dozen or more pristine plastic leaves, each displaying a tear sheet. All the campaigns that made Don famous were there. Kodak, Playtex, Lucky Strike. He pushed the open case toward me and I feigned interest as I flipped through the pages.

 

“Some memorable work, for sure.”

 

“So what do you think?” Don pulled out a pack of Lucky’s and pressed his pant pockets in search of either matches or a lighter.

 

“You can’t smoke here, Don. Sorry.”

 

“I thought you said this was an advertising agency?”

 

“We still call it that, yes. But a lot has changed. In fact we don’t really make many ads.  At least not the kind you’re used to making.”

 

“Well what do you make?”

 

“I guess we make a newer form of advertising. Digital experiences, social media applications, engagement platforms, shareable content, mobile utility. A lot of technology.”

“I see. Well, technology is a glittering lure, but there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, when they have a sentimental bond with the product….”

 

Don launched into his well rehearsed Carousel speech.

 

“I love that monolog,” I interrupted. “ It’s brilliant. It’s probably got a million views on YouTube. But I only have a few more minutes.”

 

“YouTube?”

 

I flipped through the rest of Don’s portfolio then lied to Don (some things about advertising don’t change) and said I had a meeting with a client and walked him back to the lobby.

 

“We’ll pass your book around and I’ll get back to you.”

 

I wasn’t sure he believed me. But he said thank you, shook my hand and offered a good-bye. I waited with him for the elevator. He entered and pressed the lobby button.

 

As the doors slid closed, he stared straight at me and with a half smile added, “Good luck with your next meeting.”

 

Wait a minute, I thought. Wasn’t that Roger’s line?

 

 

8 comments
Shanghai64
Shanghai64

So Don had a book of ads to show. 

Ads that ran in the available media of the time. Ads that were, as you pointed out, "memorable work".   

Work that moved people. Work that made them feel better about both themselves and the brands they advertised. Work that helped to transform those businesses.

Happily, you were able to 'feign interest" in them.  Nice of you to be so polite.  

You, on the other hand are proud to show him some 'video games, apps, charts that showed user experience journeys and a few key frames for a new mobile experience'.

What was it you said to him? “In fact we don’t really make many ads.  At least not the kind you’re used to making. I guess we make a newer form of advertising. Digital experiences, social media applications, engagement platforms, shareable content, mobile utility. A lot of technology.”


Don was right about emotional engagement, and the power of well-communicated ideas to transform our emotional responses to things, including brands and businesses.  It was true in his era, with its technologies and it's still true today, with all of ours.

Can you list the most memorable ads you've ever seen?  Sure you can. They're all still there in living colour, and perfect detail.   

Now list the most memorable 'user experience', or 'engagement platform', or 'shared content' you've ever seen?  Not quite so easy, is it?    


The new communication technologies it seems to me, are mostly about breadth, not depth.  More places to reach people in more varied ways.  Yes, they all have a role to play, but traditional media, and traditional advertising forms, have not been made redundant, or obsolete by these new forms.  Rather, they have been complemented and extended.


Its still powerful, emotional, memorable ideas that reach people and move them. Whatever the medium.


No wonder Don was so dismissive in his farewell comment.  With your smug, purblind attitude, you and you client are going to need all the luck you can get.   


Hope the new 'digital experience' goes well.  What are your target metrics for that?


(I'll be outside having a smoke and a chat with Don).



seo4
seo4

 Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this topic here on your web page.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@Shanghai64  Of course it is: Its still powerful, emotional, memorable ideas that reach people and move them. Whatever the medium. This was a joke about being stuck in the past, not about the value of creative ideas. But too many "old" thinkers limit their creative application to old media. They need to be more like Droga5 or Forsman Bodenfors. Not like the agencies of old whose DNA still permeates too many current day shops.

Shanghai64
Shanghai64

@edwardboches @Shanghai64

Yes, but, but, but ...

Yes, a joke, but a rather cruel, sneering joke. 

The first 'but' is too many people these days seem to focus exclusively on the 'new' media, and are all too dismissive of the power and value of the 'old'. 

The second 'but' is the business has become very fragmented and 'specialist' agencies see their part of the picture, but not the whole.  Whilst clients have - for reasons of their own - split their total communications between them, co-ordination remains a major challenge and it's not being well handled in most cases.  The parts add up to less than the whole.   Fewer big, famous ideas; fewer variegated executions that build on a central, enduring creative theme.  (What used to be called 'campaigns'). More one-offs, more tangents, more blind alleys. Less that feeds long-term memory, less that builds long-term value.

The final 'but' is your reference to 'old' thinkers. I'm not quite sure what you mean. I've been in the business for over forty years, and I'm quite well aware of the opportunities and problems created by the current communications landscape. I don't know anyone with any significant experience who isn't.  On the other hand, there are a lot of less experienced (but often very specialised) people who are convinced they've invented a totally new paradigm, that everything that went before is obsolete and worthless. 


A capacity for critical thinking doesn't have 'new' or 'old' dimensions. 'Newthink' versus 'oldthink', on the other hand, feels rather Orwellian.  

Doubleplus ungood.

Shanghai64
Shanghai64

@edwardboches @Shanghai64  Thanks for your replies.  I'd like to add that I'm nowhere near as grumpy as my posts might make me seem.

With our collective years in the business, there's going to be some overlap with the next couple of seasons of Madmen ...

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@Shanghai64 @edwardboches  I agree with the comment about "there are a lot of less experienced (but often very specialised) people who are convinced they've invented a totally new paradigm, that everything that went before is obsolete and worthless," nevertheless, this is one piece that has resonated with much of the industry -- among most popular of month when posted in Medium. True there are plenty of relevant ideas and ways of thinking that stand the test of time. And if you read my work on brands and the importance of defining them in contextual, relevant ways -- true to the vernacular of the media and the emotional insights we can gather from consumers -- then you know that I believe in everything from archetypes to positioning to Big Ideas (another well regarded piece you can find on this blog.) As a professor of advertising with over 35 years doing work, winning awards and growing an Ad-Age A list agency to one of the better creative and branding shops in the country I like to think my perspective is well rounded. This is simply one of hundreds of posts that offer a broad range of thoughts, ideas and inspiration for those who want to stay relevant.