Imagine... it is 2012 or 2013. Take misinterpreted content marketing, the popular series of the moment and a provider of marketing services who would like, somewhat hopelessly, to surf this particular wave, and the result is an article entitled "Ten things you can learn from Don Draper" or "Five marketing lessons from Mad Men". It would, of course, be a little pointless to add another one in the year 2016. Today, the same authors extract their marketing and life-lessons from Game of Thrones.
The series focused on the day-to-day events in an advertising agency on Madison Avenue in the 1960s and 70s. The scenarios, all-too familiar to those active in marketing, lend themselves very well to the creation of this type of list. The link is clearly easier to make than it is with dragons...
Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, has called the series science fiction in the past, i.e. a genre that facilitates the discussion of complex problems within a safe, more abstract context. Neill Blomkamp does exactly this in his science fiction film Elysium; he enables the refugee problem of today to be discussed within a futuristic setting. No matter how glorious the 1960s and the character of Don Draper look in the series, the advertising and all various comings and goings form a glossy and very thin veneer under which tricky and socially sensitive topics are discussed... So it's certainly not bound to the 1950s.
Nevertheless, precisely because the series covers marketing and advertising, it forms a great looking-glass through which to examine the digital marketing of today. But not in the way you might expect...
For anyone who isn't familiar with Mad Men, or who is just here for the quotes, here is an introduction.
“What you call ‘love’ was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.” - Mad Men: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (#1.1)
The main character is an emotionally retarded Don Draper, for whom love is an invention, a construct to sell products. A construct customised to the target audience, the creation of a false promise and a product that perfectly fulfils that need. Whereas love and nylons are viewed as pretty much the same by Draper, nowadays digital marketing is all too often the solution offered for a false need. So what is digital marketing? Is this a new discipline, ground-breaking and different from old-fashioned marketing? Can we put push-strategies and the latest box of direct mailings with the old paper, out on the street? Or does digital marketing equate to Draper's love? A construct for buying and selling pretty packs of nylons from Google, Facebook and other trendy names?
An example that is found in the same list as 'content marketing'; hip, trendy and new. Promoted as the solution for practically every online marketing problem. A problem with astonishing 'new insights'? Dr Oetker was applying these principles effectively at the end of the 19th century by placing recipes on packs of baking powder.
Marketing is a rich discipline, often explained by means of the 4 P's. Promotion is just one of them; publicity is just an element of this and advertising is then a an element of that. Even though advertising or even overall 'promotion' can take a digital format nowadays, it is ultimately a new channel, the same techniques, insights and expertise are applied. Whether we are sharing recipes with cooking enthusiasts via a themed website and corresponding social campaign, or printing recipes on our physical packaging, we are essentially doing the same thing, it is just the channel and the inherent characteristics that differ.
Or as the president of PepsiCo, Brad Jakeman, summarised it at the ANA Masters of Marketing conference: “…digital marketing [is] the "most ridiculous term I've ever heard. There is no such thing as digital marketing. There is marketing -- most of which happens to be digital. We 'ghettoize' digital as though it's the life raft tethered to the big ocean liner. And we have to move on from that."
“People want to be told what to do so bad that they’ll listen to anyone.” - Mad Men: Babylon (#1.6)
However, all too frequently in businesses with well-developed marketing departments, separate digital departments are set up, 'digital marketing' managers are appointed and gurus and specialists are hired in on all fronts. How many businesses would have a marketing department and then a separate 'radio advertising' department too?
Another good point made by Jakeman is the image of the 'digital life raft' The digital component of the marketing strategy is all too often attributed mythical properties. From the expectation that a purely sales-based post on social media could 'go viral', to completely and deliberately ignoring the law of decreasing returns to scale, is the campaign running well? Surely a threefold status will result in three times the result, won't it?
“I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie, there is no system, the universe is indifferent.” - Mad Men: The Hobo Code (#1.8)
And once you are invested in a digital approach and the results are not forthcoming, the search often begins for 'tricks'. The right strategy or 'smart approach' for cracking the system, in order to ensure an advantage is gained over the other party. So, for example: 'can't we do something to reduce our fees to Google?', 'Do we have to invest so much in copywriting? Don't we have a tool that can write these texts?', 'We want to be the first result with an advert for every search. The maximum monthly budget is as follows...'
These questions are not necessarily illogical or foolish but they demonstrate a misunderstanding of digital. It is indicative of the aforementioned life raft approach, the idea that a big enough budget can fix everything. Or, put another way, that all marketing sins in all 4 of the P's can be ransomed for a fifth P, that of penitence.
“All I have is a crush-proof box, and four out of five dead people smoked your brand.” - Mad Men: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (#1.1)
The digital component, however, can best be viewed as a catalyst or magnifying glass. The impact of the other P's and, in particular Promotion, can be substantially stimulated. This could involve a TV advertisement or radio campaign; the big difference does not lie in measurability but in reciprocity. We can laugh about an advert in our living rooms, but an unsuccessful marketing activity, such as promoting a long-haul holiday next to an article about an air-crash or, more recently, promoting pressure cookers next to news about an attack involving a pressure-cooker in New York, means your message is inadvertently presented erroneously across the world.
The publicity opportunity is no longer a one-way street and the consumer, undoubtedly more articulate now than in the past, is more able than ever to ventilate his/her response, whether positive or negative.
This works in two directions; if the P's are well organised, each (digital) marketing activity will expand the impact, the only negative factor to then be considered is the law of decreasing returns to scale, or the physical limitations of stock or production.
“And then, when Lucky Strike moved their business elsewhere, I realized, here was my chance to be someone who could sleep at night, because I know what I'm selling doesn't kill my customers. So as of today, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce will no longer take tobacco accounts. We know it's going to be hard. If you're interested in cigarette work, here's a list of agencies that do it well…” - Mad Men: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (#1.1)
Anyone who prices his identical product at four times the price of the competition, or who sells a defective or dishonest product, or creates unrealistic expectations... they may as well have not bothered. This type of crooked situation does not really work with (digital) marketing. The time, money, effort and hard work that would be involved in this type of irrelevant attempts would be much better spent on improving the product.
But that's not to say that the P for promotion is without error and that its results are simply an elaboration of production characteristics. A great deal can go wrong with promotion.
In order to illustrate this, let's go back to Brad Jakeman: "My particular peeve is pre-roll. I hate it. What is even worse is that I know the people who are making it know that I'm going to hate it. Why do I know that? Because they tell me how long I am going to have to endure it -- 30 seconds, 20 seconds, 15 seconds. … That is a model of polluting content that is not sustainable."
"Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons, and eventually they hit you in the face." - Mad Men: Long Weekend (#1.10)
And this last quote brings us to the role of the digital marketing specialist. The continuous challenges and research into the customers' drivers are vital in order to achieve the desired effect with the digital component and to guard against pitfalls and the life-raft mentality.
Those who are successful in the digital landscape must always have their four P's in order. Digital channels are not a 'get out of jail free card' but in contrast, exacerbate gaps in the marketing mix and strategy. This does not detract from the fact that the digital channels are, indeed, quite new and for some still an extremely confusing area. The digital marketing consultant is a welcome guide in this setting who can shed light on the benefits and also on the disadvantages of digital channels. And don't forget that he/she can also provide useful insights into the other P's too!
“Stop writing down what I asked for and try to figure out what I want.” - Mad Men: Far Away Places (#5.6)
The right moment to engage a digital marketing expert is not once the marketing strategy has been set out and certainly not just on an implementation level. Precisely when the product, price and place (is the internet a new area here too?) are being discussed, the marketing manager should be able to count on the insights and expertise of a digital partner, the added value of digital channels and the opportunities that lie in this field.
When a digital partner is only engaged for the implementation phase of the already discussed strategic exercise, the dye is already cast and with all the will and budget in the world, he/she will only be able to expand and perpetuate the effects of that exercise... or maybe not.
So make good use of your digital partner, strategist or expert. Not as a life-raft, but on the bridge of the ship. And we conclude with a quote from Mad Men that any self-respecting blog post about Mad Men and advertising wouldn't dare to overlook, out of respect for the cliché.
“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing is OK. You are OK.” - Mad Men: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (#1.1)