Disclaimer: this blog will be oppressively meta. I say that because as I’m tucked away in a corner conference room typing this very sentence, I’m setting up a blog about how “Mad Men,” the critically-acclaimed drama set in the 1960s focused on a bustling New York ad agency, has inspired and taught me to be better at my job…as a content marketer and storyteller in a digital marketing and PR agency. Worlds. Colliding.
As content marketers, our number one job is to tell a story. What that story is, the ways we tell it, the channels we use to disseminate it, the very language we employ to articulate it—all of that is subject to change. But the art of good storytelling isn’t so malleable. On the contrary, it’s absolute. And no show in recent memory, I think, both encapsulates the subtle art of good storytelling while also embodying it more so than “Mad Men.”
Fortunately, the toxic, misogynistic, #MeToo-fueled workplace culture of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has changed mostly for the better. What hasn’t changed is how ad men and women go about telling relatable, impactful stories for brands of all shapes and sizes. Anchoring “Mad Men” is Don Draper, who no matter how deplorable and problematic a character he was, possessed the enviable talent of effortlessly weaving a compelling, resonant story together…most of the time.
In fact, what makes Don Draper so good at his job and makes the character so irresistible despite all of his flaws is the fact that he himself is a masterful storyteller. He can take something as inconsequential as a brand of cereal and craft a tale around it that paints a profound, captivating and wholly emotion-fueled picture of what that brand of cereal can embody and represent for every single individual. As content marketers, that’s the gold standard we all strive to achieve.
Beyond Don Draper’s literal way with words, no character on “Mad Men” is as aspirational a figure for those in the marketing field as secretary turned copywriter turned creative maestro Peggy Olson. Despite the overwhelming odds against her, Peggy’s the resident phoenix of “Mad Men,” rising above the adversity she faced to stand on equal footing with Don as a masterful creative storyteller. Her journey as a copywriter is made all the more poignant due to the penchant of “Mad Men” to truly embrace verisimilitude in its storytelling, magnifying the impact of her character arc even more.
I could spend hours and many, many more words barreling on about the sheer brilliance of “Mad Men” as a television show, but that’s not the crux of the story I’m telling here. No, the purpose of this story is how “Mad Men” as both a vehicle and a piece of art colours my approach to storytelling. The fact that the show is set in an agency with characters who are incredible storytellers themselves only enriches my point (I did warn you this would be extremely meta).
What always inspired and continues to inspire me about “Mad Men” is that every single frame, every line of dialogue, every subtle action, every musical cue acted as an important cog that served the overall story and narrative of the show as a whole. Everything had meaning. Everything had a purpose. That’s what makes for good storytelling and is the lesson I try to keep in mind for every single piece of work I create.
It’s a lesson that we as marketers, even with all of the different technologies and platforms available to us today to both tell and spread a story, have to always consider. Because at the end of the day, if the sum whole of your story’s parts—no matter how good they are—don’t fit together into a cohesive, meaningful narrative, then it’ll suffer a fate worse than simply being bad. Your story will be unmemorable. And as we all know, that’s the ultimate nail in the coffin for any marketer.
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