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What Would Don Draper Do?

By Avi Dan
Published July 28, 2008 in Adweek

What would Don Draper, the brilliant creative director of the fictional advertising agency Sterling Cooper in the show Mad Men do if he joined the business today? If he were catapulted back into advertising agency future in a souped up DeLorean, he won’t recognize it: no cigarettes, no sexism, and no three martini lunches. The business got dull for the frat boys.

I got into the business on the tail of the Bernbach creative revolution. I was fortunate enough to work with two creative geniuses, the late Roy Grace and Diane Rothschild, who were in Ground Zero of that revolution. And in a magical agency called Wells, Rich, Greene that epitomized the creative revolution from the first moment when Mary Wells got mobile artist Alexander Calder to paint the fuselage of Braniff Airways planes. We didn’t  even have monikers like “non-traditional” for things like that then, we just called them ideas.

But the creative revolution was mainly about TV, and about image. And although at first we didn’t notice it, it petered out. Cable killed broadcast TV, and advertising was slow to adapt to a more democratized landscape. We lost our mojo because we got fat and lazy and just shoved our commercials down consumers’ throats by doing the same old, same old. So, the consumers took control.  First with the remote control and DVRs and later with their keypads.

To paraphrase Norma Desmond, the mad, decaying heroine of the 1950 film noire classic “Sunset Boulevard”, “The Consumer didn’t get bigger. The agencies got smaller”. Clinging to traditional solutions in TV commercials and ignoring the evolution of an interactive, interconnected world around them, and at best paying lip service to the needs of their clients to integrate their communication, find new ways to reach their customers and measure ROI.

Enter the media agencies.

We are now at the early stages of a new creative revolution, one that is media agency driven. Much of the hoopla in the press is on one aspect of  this revolution –digital agencies, and lots of it is about social media of late. This is understandable. Digital is new. Social media is newer. It’s growing very fast (albeit from a small base) and it’s good “copy” – how the damn thing gets monetized is another matter. But the revolution is much broader than that. And ignored. It’s in music. In gaming. In PR. In customer services. In video. In design as media. Everything is media today.

But most importantly the revolution takes place under the surface, in the less sexy areas of technology where media agencies have a big advantage. This technology brings those agencies ever closer to the consumer proximity to data is becoming as critical to marketing as Wal-mart to its shoppers. It allows media agencies pour over what spooks call raw intelligence: data uncontaminated by subjective interpretation and bias. This means better insights on how and where to connect with consumers, how to measure the engagements, how to enhance brand loyalty and how to arrive at meaningful ROI. The first creative revolution was all about connecting brands to culture. This one goes a step further. It’s about complementing art with science and it’s about understanding engagement differently in a vastly fragmented and much more challenging world. Going from gut instinct to precise understanding and  knowledge. The Red Baron is about to become a space cowboy. John Wanamaker’s lament, “I know that half my advertising is working. I just don’t know which half” is yesterday’s news.

Technology will not hinder creativity; it will make it more robust and crisp. Ideas will matter more than ever, except they would be media-led ideas. The advertising industry’s version of the Tour de France’s Yellow Jersey, worn by the leader, is about to change hands. From the “creatives” to the , the media analysts and strategists who can navigate smartly through reams of behavioral data and develop the creative roadmap to get the brand message to its destination in the most appetizing and efficient manner. The advertising industry is shifting its emphasis from the mindset of curators and editors to that of mathematicians and scientists, and that’s not a bad thing in an age that value measurement. So that’s where I think Don Draper would want to find himself if he entered advertising today. Analyzing consumers IQ and EQ, understand patterns of their behavior, engage in scenario planning,  and coming up with insights and new ways make connections more relevant and more enjoyable.

Having spent the last 30 years in creative agencies (and with some, I use the term loosely) taught me that  Creative is not art and a little more science is not such a bad idea. Is this the revenge of the nerds? Perhaps. But we got what’s coming to us for every meeting in which media got relegated for the last 5 minutes or not didn’t get to present at all after working all night on their flowcharts. A little more science is good for us. It will de-commoditize advertising and will make it more valuable to our clients.

But brothers and sisters of the media agencies, don’t repeat the mistake of the first creative revolution. Don’t make it a media or creative thing, make it an “and”. I mean, who wants to log storyboards deep into New Jersey after eating suspect sushi working on them late into the night and get 5 minutes to present a dozen commercials?

And oh, yeah. Now that you are in charge of the asylum it’s up to you now to bring back some boozing, too.

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