9 ½ Things Mad Men Has Taught Us About Digital Marketing

Allowing its viewers to slip into a richly illustrated world of dreamy advertising, sharp dressing and a plethora of afternoon scotch, the show has gained a passionate, dedicated fan base and a place on the mantle of pop culture. While advertising has evolved from 1960’s Madison Avenue, there are some lessons that seamlessly crossover from SCDP (Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce) methods to the modern digital world. Though the inspirational pitches and outrageous office antics (remember the lawnmower?) are a delight to watch, it’s the dialogue that really takes center stage. So grab yourself a lucky strike (and a neat scotch if you are feeling fancy) and dive into nine (and a half) Mad Men quotes which form the digital do’s and don’ts that stand the test of time.  

1. Don’t forget who counts

People tell you who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be. – Don Draper of Mad Men

More often than not, advertisers and marketers get lost in the excitement of creating campaigns and forget to focus on what the customer really wants, and instead tell them what they should want. To a degree this has been very successful, however to take a campaign to the next level, it is important to think like your customer.

The most valuable resource that digital marketers can access to create a viral piece of content, design a web page or write an engaging blog post is people. They aren’t in short supply and most of them are happy to give their opinion whether it’s good or bad.

If you make time to listen to interested people’s opinions and feedback, then use this information to shape your campaign, you can tap into a person’s headspace and truly reach them.

For example when creating your shopping cart page, ask yourself, “If I was going to buy something from this site, is this what I would want to see?” If your site uses feedback boxes or site search, don’t ignore the data you receive. If the customer tells you the site looks visually stunning but they can’t find the checkout box, make it obvious where it is. If your customer says that the site is easy to navigate but the design looks spammy and untrustworthy, do something about it. If you can supply brilliant aesthetics and a site that is easy to navigate and convert on, kudos to you.

Constantly asking questions may lead to a longer development/creative process, but you can be confident that the result will benefit the most important person – the user.

2. Don’t say yes just to put money on the table

Source: Hora22

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. – Roger Sterling of Mad Men

Client: “Can you increase non-brand traffic, and increase CTR?”

Agency: “Sure, that’s fine, we can do that.”

Client: “Can we do this while reducing overall advertising spend by 10%?”

Agency: “Yes.”

Client: “We think the best way to do this is by putting all of our budget behind targeting the keyword – ‘free’. Can you set that up for us?”

Agency: “Sure.”

The conversation above is one that seems all too familiar. Sometimes the words ‘yes’, ‘sure’ and ‘of course’ are coming out of your mouth before you have time to think about it.

Digital agencies are at the forefront of online innovation, and if you are doing it well enough people will know you by name and request your expertise. Therefore, if clients come to you with an idea that they are very adamant about and you can spot the pitfalls from a mile away, it is best to be honest. Now this isn’t to say, tell them that their idea sucks, but rather to educate as to why it may not be the best route to take. To make this as easy as possible you can:

  • Draw on previous experience with supporting data
  • Present case studies of companies within the same field
  • Provide a way to incorporate elements of their idea into a more solid plan

By the time you have worked through points 1-3, the client has been brought back to your method of creating campaigns, but is not alienated by you completely axing their ideas. In this way you can be confident that what has been agreed will be answered with “yes, we can do that.”

Be honest and you will avoid an uncomfortable relationship (…and possibly a slap in the face).

3. Don’t expect a reward for the wins, clients remember the bad so much better

It’s your job. I give you money, you give me ideas.”

“And you never say thank you.”

“That’s what the money is for!” – Peggy Olsen and Don Draper of Mad Men

This is a quote that resonates through the digital field. Clients invest large sums of money into agencies to create and pitch ideas that they will fall in love with, and use to take their company to the next level. Once the mission is accomplished, what do they want? MORE. No please, no thank you – and right back to work on the next idea. Take note, a digital marketer’s job is never done.

4.  Shake things up

If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation. – Don Draper of Mad Men

Does it feel like you’re up the digital creek without a paddle? If so you have two options:

  • 1. Let the creek wash over you (eew)
  • 2. Make the creek work for you/innovate a paddle

There are times when it feels like, despite your marketing efforts, your content isn’t taking off like you had hoped, or your customer service feedback is consistently poor.

If you want to make the creek work for you, it’s time to shake up your strategy.

Sometimes all it takes is a bit of social listening and a little tweak to make all the difference, and the moment you see this in action, you discover that in a digital world, agility and an open mind are very strong marketing assets.

5. Don’t dwell on mistakes

Source: OptinMonster

Get out of here and move forward. This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened. – Don Draper of Mad Men

People make mistakes, this is a fact of life. However, it isn’t the mistake that is important but rather how you learn from it, and then overcome it.

Instead of looking at what could have been, take a few deep breaths and think about what happened and why. Did you run out of time due to unrealistic timescales? Was the idea not fully fleshed out in the initial stages? Was there a lack of communication between all parties involved?

While there are many reasons for a failed project, it is key to address the issue and note what you would have done differently to achieve your desired outcome. Doing so ensures that you are better prepared for next time.

Don’t forget, the past cannot be altered so don’t trip yourself up looking backwards for too long.

6. Assess yourself regularly

Go home, take a paper bag and cut some eyeholes out of it. Put it over your head, get undressed and look at yourself in the mirror. Really evaluate where your strengths and weaknesses are. And be honest. – Joan Holloway of Mad Men

It’s a good thing to know what your company’s strengths and weaknesses are, but it’s a great thing when you act on this. The best way to identify your strengths and weaknesses is to perform SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.


Strengths relate to anything that can add value and provide a competitive advantage. Examples include development resources, large budgets, employee knowledge, and partnerships with recognised companies within the industry.


Weaknesses relate to anything that can negatively affect the ability to gain/maintain a competitive advantage. Examples of this could be a lack of resources, skills and expertise, small budgets and an undesirable physical location.


Opportunities refer to a time or set of circumstances that make it possible to advance within the marketplace. These factors include solving current issues, taking advantage of trends and global events and producing initiatives to increase demand for your goods or services.


Threats refer to factors outside of the company’s control, that have the ability to derail marketing strategy or, on a larger scale, put the company at risk. Example factors include changes in consumer tastes, recession, competitors, government regulations and negative brand coverage in the press.

Once SWOT analysis has been completed, it can be used to formulate an action plan based on the results. Strengths can be leveraged to seize opportunities for growth, while weaknesses can be minimised through a strategy of improved prioritisation, training and communication.

7. Continue earning your client

Source: The Conversation

The day you sign a client is the day you start losing him. – Roger Sterling of Mad Men

You have just landed the most prestigious client in the world for your company, but the work doesn’t end there. Allow yourself a glass of champagne (or five) but be prepared to hit the ground running, tomorrow… and the next day… and the next day.

When the client has signed on the dotted line, this is not the time that you rest on your laurels and retreat into the shadows. This might work for the Don Drapers of the world, but for those of us who aren’t as charming (or good looking) creativity and communication are key.

If you ignore your client until they start to contact you, you will lose your client. If you come back time and time again with dated campaigns and a lack of innovation while creating a plan, you will lose the client.

Keep earning your client by:

Following up

You would not believe how much power lies in a follow up email. Sending through a short email with the key points from the last meeting/call ensures that your client is aware of what was discussed and the agreed action plan as a result of this. By providing this document, the client is not left in the dark and has room to ask about points that they may have missed/forgotten in the meeting. This also creates a document that can easily be shared company wide.

When you make a client’s job easier, you become indispensable.

Paying attention

This stretches beyond the brand, to the people behind it. Get to know the communication style of the clients and what makes them tick. Do they have a big internal meeting every Wednesday then ask for the same set of data? Do they prefer short emails or a call? Be responsive to the client and anticipate their moves before they make them. Send through that data an hour before their Wednesday meeting.

If you feel they will be more receptive, give them a call to discuss the next creative piece. On top of this, stay ahead in client news by setting up Google alerts for your clients so that you receive the latest information as soon as it hits the web. When the client knows you are as invested in their company as they are and share similar values, there is no doubt that your agency will be in mind for their next project.

Establishing client expectations, then exceeding them

Always do more than what is required. This isn’t something that can be done for every single project due to time and resource constraints, but if you can, you should. If the client asks for three creative ideas, stretch to four. If the client gives you a Friday EOP deadline for a report, get it to them by Thursday EOP. Delivering more than the client expects makes them feel they are getting a greater return on their investment, which creates trust and value in the agency.

It is an accomplishment to attract major players, but it is a bigger accomplishment to keep them. Be attentive, keep communication flowing from day one and include the client in big decisions.

The client has chosen you, so don’t make them regret it.

8. Be prepared

Are you gonna tell me what you’re going to talk about, or is my look of surprise part of the sales pitch? – Roger Sterling

It’s written on the scout’s logo for a reason – if you fail to prepare you prepare to fail. It’s an awful situation when you reach the board room and your pitch isn’t air tight. It screams unprofessionalism and makes the potential client tune out.

The easiest way to nail a pitch and keep your audience interested is to:

Do your homework

Know your audience, and your audience’s audience. Clients listen to countless pitches every week, meaning you must catch their attention to be memorable. Understand the needs of your clients on a personable level. Research the company and the people that work there, know who your target audience is, and most importantly know your facts inside out. This way when the questions come you are cool, calm and show the potential client that you know what you are talking about.

Hook ‘em

Grab your audience’s interest with a statement or question that intrigues. Once you have them, get to the point. If a potential client can’t understand your message and the benefits in a short space of time, neither will their audience.

Avoid resplendent  prodigious fancy words

Don’t alienate your audience for the sake of sounding intelligent.

9. Do what it says on the tin

Source: Complete Tri

But it’s a label on a can. And it will be true because it will promise the quality of the product that’s inside. – Don Draper of Mad Men

It’s a situation we can all relate to: a friend says they will call you later – but they don’t. Your colleague says they will get that very important document to you by the end of the day – but they don’t.

When you are let down once you can let it slide, but more than a few times and the perception of a person/company can change, often with irreparable damage.

To help improve the process:

Allow yourself enough time

The day-to-day of a digital marketer is often a balancing act. There are multiple plates that need spinning, so ensure you give yourself plenty of time to attend to each plate in order to avoid a horrible disaster. If you find this difficult, check out these five productivity hacks.

Let your yes mean yes

If you say “yes” make sure it is something that can be done and it is something you are comfortable doing. Also ensure that by doing so, your self-worth/company’s integrity is not damaged.

Schedule, schedule, schedule

Once a point has been agreed, add this to a shared schedule so that it is clear to all involved when the task should be started and completed and what it entails.

Own your shortcomings

No matter how much planning you do, there are times when unforeseen circumstances can throw you off course. When this happens, make sure to alert your client as soon as possible. This prevents ugly surprises at the end of the line and lets clients feedback on the status of a project ASAP.

When you commit to what you do, and do what you commit to, customers/clients will have no doubt that your name on the tin means the product inside will be trustworthy, high-quality and worth every penny spent.

9 ½. Lawnmowers do not belong in the office

Just to wrap up for those of you who looked at the post and thought TLDR (too long didn’t read), Mad Men offers beautiful insight into the life of 60’s advertising, but at it’s heart: it shares the core principles for success in the modern digital world, offering entertaining lessons in the ups and downs of client/agency communication, preparedness, tenacity, integrity and flying in the face of fear.

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