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7 Mad Men Quotes That Applied Both Then and Now

Smoke wafts up from the cigarette between his fingers. The ember is dulled, buried beneath a layer of ash, but burning all the same. With a flick of his finger, the excess ash lands amidst the rest in the small ceramic tray on his desk. In his other hand he swirls a glass, causing the sole ice cube inside to clink against the sides. He brings the cigarette to his lips. The ember burns bright for a moment’s inhalation before being cloaked by a cloud of exhaled tobacco. The man is sitting back in his chair. To the rest of the world he appears to be doing nothing more than waiting to leave. To everyone in the office, though, he’s polishing up his next big pitch.

We all love AMC’s Mad Men, and if you don’t, then odds are you haven’t seen it yet. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Aside from the stellar character development, acting, directing, writing, and even more that there isn’t room to mention, there’s also an accurate look into the world of advertising in the 1960s & 70s. Believe it or not, a lot of what was said during those 7 seasons still applies to the ad industry today.

1. “The day you sign a client is the day you start losing one.”

Mad Men Presentation

We start off with something that is both a fact, and a warning. Don’s been in the business for a while at this point, and the quote shows off the eternal chase for just one more as something to be aware of.

It can be tempting to focus more effort towards pleasing the newest client. It’s only natural to want to make a stellar first impression. To keep this up, though, has the potential for harm if not planned for. Those hours have to come from somewhere, after all. The pursuit of improving your business doesn’t have to be come with your current work suffering at all. Instead of sacrificing any current quality of work, show these new and potential clients the level of consistency and dedication that you bring to everyone who signs on with your company.

2. “Success comes from standing out, not fitting in.”

If you don't like what they're saying, change the conversation.

This is especially true today. With social media trends coming and going faster than Hollywood reboots, odds are there’s going to be another company with a similar product to yours. They’ll probably have focused on their marketing strategy too. Which is to say nothing of their newfound success. That could be your success. But that avenue is closed now. Fight the urge to just rinse and repeat. It’s time to get original.

Except that, with the all-seeing, all-knowing power of the internet, consumers will be familiar with those products and their messaging. They’ll recognize laziness. You don’t want to become just another face in the crowd. There are already plenty of those.

3. “You. Feeling something. That’s what sells.”

I'm feeling a lot of emotions too.

This line was true then. It’s true now. It’ll be true a century from now when our entertainment is streamed directly to our Smart Glasses and every ad is catered by every online decision we’ve ever made.

There’s nothing that separates a company or brand more in the age of the internet and social media than something that evokes an emotional response. A product can be the latest and greatest innovation in the last decade, but if the marketing falls flat and lives in the world of ‘blah’ advertising, the consumers are going to know. Not only will they know, but they’ll move onto the next best with a smile. No last look back. And this other product will have an ad campaign crafted with heart.

4. “Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent.”

And furnish is with love

The fact that this quote is still so powerful may be due less because of the show being run by resident psychics, though we’re not ruling anything out, and more because nostalgia will always be sought after. We as people are eternally chasing it, the warmth of the past, its simplicity, the way every day was our own as long as our homework was done... Sorry, got a little lost back there. Where we? Right, the power of nostalgia.

Fuller House, the Gilmore Girls reunion season, Nintendo releasing the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) a year ago – with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) following the same track, right down to the product shortages – and more are examples of how powerful nostalgia can be. And how careful you have to be when invoking it. That passion driving it forward can be turned back on the creators just as easily if the right steps aren’t taken.

Now let’s get back to waiting for the next piece of live-action Lion King news to drop.

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

Well we're getting a computer, it's gonna do a lot of magic for us

Again, we have a line that somehow worked great in a show set in the 60s while still managing to work even better today. Technology is so readily available today, and to so many people, that it’s never been easier to get eyes on your ad. Which naturally means that it’s never been more difficult. The internet attention span hovers at around a second or two, so you better come out swinging with your best work. If people come across something that doesn’t immediately catch their interest, they’ll scroll past without hesitation. We’ve done it. And we’re willing to bet you have, too.

This is the hurdle you need to clear when marketing online. So much of what is thrown together and posted online is of sub-par to average quality, that creating something people make some type of sentimental bond with – something with actual substance – stands out as a bright port in the storm.

6. “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.”

Peggy Olsen rollerblading

Aside from being one of my favorite lines of the show, Draper’s philosophic, at-least-once-a-season observation applies to every product. Every campaign. You’re directing the message towards something new and better. We all want to be happy. Every day is spent working towards that next thing that’ll bring a smile or laugh, take away some otherwise negative part of our lives.

This is the promise of advertising. We’re crafting an image of what could be. What’s on the way. We’re presenting an image of hope. And that’s something everyone could use more of.

7. “We all try. We don’t always make it.”

Back to work

Here is perhaps the most relevant quote of all. It isn’t easy working in advertising and marketing. Mistakes are going to happen. That’s the reality of our work, but it isn’t the important part.

The future depends on what you do after the mistake. That’s what’s important. You should be able to recognize the missteps you or your team made and approach the situation with a cool head. Come up with a strategy to not only recover, but to prevent the same mistakes from happening twice. That’s what separates the successful from, well, everyone else.

At GLAD WORKS, we know there’s a lot to take away from AMC’s Mad Men. Especially working in the advertising & marketing business. The writers – with showrunner Matthew Weiner – have shown a tremendous amount of respect with the amount of research towards the source material and world of 1960s advertising. There’s certainly inspiration to be found, and the team at GLAD WORKS knows just how to put it to use and keep pushing the bar forward.

“We’re going to sit at our desks and keep typing while the walls fall down around us because we’re creative – the least important, most important thing there is.”