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Friday, May 22, 2015

Where "Mad Men" Leaves Us!

“(Hershey’s) relationship with America is so overwhelmingly positive, that everyone in this room has their own story to tell….Most of them are from childhood. Mine was my father taking me to the drug store after I mowed the lawn. He told me I could have anything I wanted – anything at all. And there was a lot. But I picked a Hershey Bar. The wrapper looked like what was inside. As I worked it open, my father tussled my hair and forever his love and the chocolate were tied together. That is the story we’re going to tell. Hershey’s is the currency of affection. It’s the childhood symbol of love.”
 - Don Draper
 These were the initial words of a pitch that Don Draper delivered to Hershey at the end of season 6 of Mad Men, right before Draper’s colossal downfall, which resulted in him hitting rock bottom in the recently concluded 7th and final season of Mad Men. His begins in literally his next breath, where he admits that the story above is a complete fabrication. In fact, Draper admits that he had no father and was an orphan who lived in a brothel He announces matter-of-factly that eating a Hershey bar was the one time he was able to feel like a kid proclaiming, “It was the only sweet thing in my life.”
While Mad Men fans debate the relative strengths and weaknesses of the series finale, I wanted to take a minute to discuss how Mad Men addresses the role of brands in our lives. As the series has ended, I’ve found myself wrestling with what the Mad Men story implies for marketers. Are we all just cheap con men and women, snake oil salesmen desperate to invent stories that attempt to create some fictitious bond between our brands and consumers? Or is there some truth in Draper’s initial Hershey story? Can brands that are part of the most meaningful stories of our lives become “currencies of affection” or “symbols of love?”
Call me na├»ve, but I believe it is the latter. While we will never “love” brands the way we love another human being, there are brands in my life and in yours that we associate with a fond memory, an event that we look back upon nostalgically. I’ve seen consumers talk about it all the time. The Rawlings glove that, through a miraculous right field catch, transforms a timid 8 year old baseball beginner into a confident young ballplayer, and sparks a confidence that ultimately will stay with him as an executive many years later. The forty something year old lady who recalls her long deceased Grandmother giving her a glass of Lipton iced tea on her porch on a hot summer day. The construction worker’s distinct memory of the first time his dad let him taste his beer, a Budweiser. Is Don Draper’s fictitious story all that far fetched?
Strong brands may serve as a catalyst for a memorable event or merely stay in the background. But nonetheless, they are a part of it. It is these shared experiences that deepen our own affections for the brands we ultimately love. The brand becomes part of our life and part of our history.
But note the word I used – “experience.” I didn’t say “commercial” or “coupon” or “2 for 1 deal.” While these may ultimately help in driving volume or, even potentially enable the brand to be in the right place at the right time, they aren’t a replacement for the actual experience. To grow your relationship with consumers, the brand has to become part of their lives. Any marketing program that does otherwise is a waste of time and resources.
Draper refers to Hershey’s as the “currency of love.” It is a rich story that serves as a strong base for the brand’s role in its consumer’s lives. The question you have to ask yourself about your brand is, what is its currency? In other words, what is the foundation that you are going build off to truly have a relationship with your consumer base?