The real Mad Men who changed the conversation

Mad Men finale, brand development, brand engagement, top-performing TV commercials,

What would Don Draper say? If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.

With thoughts still focused on the MAD MEN finale, it’s an opportune time to look at four ground-breaking commercials, and how they impacted the future of advertising.

1971 It’s the Real Thing / Coke, McCann-Erickson

“The hilltop commercial was among the first that Coca-Cola shot in full color. More important, it was perhaps the nation’s first colorized one — an unusual advertisement that admitted a possible multicultural future beyond whiteness.”

~ via Slate Culturebox, What Coke Taught the World

“So that was the basic idea: to see Coke not as it was originally designed to be – a liquid refresher – but as a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples, a universally liked formula that would help to keep them company for a few minutes.”

~ Bill Backer, CD on Coca-Cola, McCann-Erickson

The song bridged an instant (and lasting) connection with the public, and was, perhaps, the forerunner of brand engagement. Backer tapped directly into that elusive, emotional connection between the audience and the brand. It stuck for a long time. The commercial has consistently been voted one of the best.

1984 / Apple, Chiat/Day


The Apple Macintosh “1984” spot, that ran during Super Bowl XVIII, “became the Madison Avenue version of ‘Citizen Kane,’” author Michael Weinreb stated.

The brainchild of Steve Hayden, Brent Thomas and Lee Clow (directed by Ridley Scott), this distinctive Orwellian vision is considered the launch of event marketing. The promotion was so mythic, so groundbreaking, that it garnered as much, if not more coverage than the product itself. The fact that Apple announced that the commercial would never be aired again fed the media frenzy.

The spot paved the way for commercial directors like David Fincher to cross over into features – and features’ directors such as Spike Lee were given a long leash to create 30-second masterpieces.

1955 Marlboro Man (1966 spot) / Philip Morris, Leo Burnett Worldwide

The invention of the Marlboro Man was a response to the mounting evidence in the early 1950’s that smoking had adverse health effects. This new evidence led to the development of filter tips. But Marlboro was primarily known as a women’s cigarette. How could they get men on board? Leo Burnett had a solution.

Change the conversation, as Don would say. Enter the rugged, cleft-chinned, smoking cowboy figure. Seeing that this cool, weathered guy enjoyed these new Marlboros made it a must for other men to enjoy them too. A trademark was born. Sales soared to $20 million in 1957.

1988 Just Do It / Nike, Weiden+Kennedy

The launch of that first Nike ad under the “Just Do It” tag, shaped the brand’s story. Nike was at a pivotal point, with sales declining, and the loss of the number one shoe brands position to Reebok.

The simplicity of Dan Wieden’s slogan instantly became a catchphrase – part of the everyday vernacular – to get on with it, and that everyone could take positive steps forward – perhaps to greatness. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Illustration of Don Draper, © MAD MEN / AMC

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