Five times Mad Men advertisements were better than the real thing.


Ask anyone in the western world what comes to mind when they think of the Golden Age in American History and they will almost always invoke images straight out of advertising. Figures such as the quintessential happy housewife, complete with apron and pot roast, the ruggedly handsome men in suits with cigarettes lazily dangling from their lips, and rosy-cheeked blonde children with adorable matching outfits dominate our mental landscape when the 1950s come to mind. Back in the present day, there are people around the world who have built communities and lifestyles around these caricatures. I can say with confidence that nearly everything we know about or associate with the 1950s and 60s comes from American advertising, cinema and television of the time. One can say that advertising more than anything has played a pivotal role in shaping our understanding of the world back then. It, therefore, makes absolute sense that a show like AMC’s Mad Men did so well on the global market as it indulges our whimsical fantasies about the midcentury while also showing us the brutal realities of the era.  One of my favorite parts of Mad Men was the amount of screentime dedicated to the imaginary Ad’ campaigns being run by the protagonists. Rather than focusing the show entirely on a romance each season, the writers also put in incredible amounts of effort in creating advertising campaigns for Don Draper and his colleagues to sell to on-screen clients. Some of the campaigns merely hint at brands or items that existed at the time while others use real-life companies as examples. At times the creators did such a great job with the advertising campaigns on-screen that I am compelled to think they would have given their historical counterparts a run for their money.  Here is a list of the 5 times I felt that the advertising on Mad Men was better than the real thing!

  1. Belle Jolie Lipsticks  


Never underestimate a catchy tagline! While both ads feature models wearing lipstick, what makes the Mad Men ad on the left stand out is the playful manner in which the ad is worded. By marrying a common characteristic of early creamy lipsticks to the tagline mark your man, the ad successfully turns a shortcoming of the product’s formulation into the lipsticks strength.

2. Gillette Right Guard 



I love the cheek of the original ad on the right. Who hasn’t been in a similar situation at a family barbeque or summer wedding? The thought of sweat marks on a nice dress being captured for posterity on film really does break me into a sweat. Then again, this might not be what the advertiser was going for. Research has shown that ads invoking negative memories or feelings are less likely to achieve the desired outcome of the campaign (which in this case is buying more deodorant). In contrast, the appeal of the ad on the left isn’t so much the artwork (we merely get to see it as an artists sketch), but the feeling it invokes. It is simultaneously clever and upbeat. You too can be using the deodorant of national heroes like astronauts!

3. Jantzen Bikinis



On the show, the ad campaign on the left was developed to sell Jantzen’s new bikini bathing suits. In the episode, the company displays concern that the picture of the model wearing the bikini would not work in favor of the family-operated business. I think this was by far the wittiest of all the ad campaigns Don Draper and Co “developed” on the show. They didn’t even need to show the revealing bikini top, as they felt that the risque censor bar on its own would sell the concept to the rebellious youth the outfit was aimed at. The use of the entire model including her face sporting a girlish grin, really emphasizes the cheekiness of this ad and the new spirit of the era. The real Janzten ad on the right showcases the same kind of bath bathing suit in a more placid setting. By removing the head of the model, we are presented with just a body, an eery floating mannequin of sorts thus desexualizing the bathing suit. A clever move by the brand to keep their PG image but not quite enough to pique interest in the market that was buying these suits in the first place in my opinion.

4. Playtex



The Mad Men ad on the left allows women to imagine themselves as one of two incredibly influential women of the time, both sharing the same love interest (President Kennedy) while giving them the option to choose who they want to be at the drop of a dress. The campaign relies on the idea that women will identify and align with one of the two women featured in the ad campaign. This concept hasn’t really left us and is still relevant today (the famous Team Jennifer versus Team Angelina tabloid polls for example). While the original Ad tells us the features and benefits of the lingerie, we all know that the ad on the left would have all the girls in the office gossiping by the water cooler at lunchtime.

5. Mohawk Airlines



Oddly enough, this is the one time that I found the original ad to be more risque than the Mad Men counterpart yet, there is something lacking in it. Yes, pretty stewardesses may have been something that caught the eye of businessmen and bachelors reading the magazine but it ignores other demographics. The Mad Men Ad, on the other hand, plays all the right notes by asking posing an open-ended question that in turn reaches out to a broader audience. It still features a very shapely stewardess greeting the passenger, but also shows a family ready to board the flight. The idea here is that we see whatever we want to see in the Ad and that in effect captures a wider audience than the original ad does with its bevvy of airline beauties.

That wraps up this Top 5. They say beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and I am assuming the same goes for the appeal of an advertisement.  I would love to hear what you think! Do you agree with me on all or some of these? Or have I completely lost my sensibilities. Drop a comment below!


Desi (3)

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