Mediagistic Blog

5 Lessons in Creative Advertising from Don Draper

creative advertisingIf you don’t know who Don Draper is, then you’ve likely been living under a rock for the better part of the last decade. For the uninitiated, he’s the dashing, brooding, hard-drinking ad man who’s the central protagonist of AMC’s hit series, Mad Men. He intuitively understands the desires of others, and his chief talent lies in formulating bold, ingenious advertising concepts and pitching them to his firm’s high-rolling clients.

Over the course of seven seasons, fans have watched Draper’s considerable creative gifts in action. Since the show’s final episode airs tonight, we decided now would be a good time to look at some of the lessons that can be culled from Draper’s run on the show.

Coming directly from the files of Don Draper himself, then, here are five lessons in creative advertising that can be used to propel ad campaigns into greatness.

Lesson 1: Understand Your Customers

As we’ve already discussed, one of Draper’s primary talents is in analyzing a client’s consumers and developing messaging to resonate with their innermost desires. We see this time and again throughout the series — Draper is able to sniff out not only what his clients want, but perhaps more importantly, what their consumers want as well. Therein lies the secret to his success as a creative director and ad man. By understanding the psychology of your consumers, you can create messaging that strikes a chord with those consumers’ fundamental desires, thereby allowing your brand to connect and engage at an exponentially deeper level.

Lesson 2: Create Narratives that Resonate

Both Draper and his protégée, Peggy Olson, understand that the key to winning business lies in crafting narratives that resonate on a personal and an emotional level. An excellent example of this happens in the season one episode, “The Wheel,” in which Don leverages the concept of nostalgia as it relates to Kodak’s Carousel slide projector. In monologue that is interspersed with photos of his own family, Draper waxes poetic: “Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent […] In Greek, nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.”

Lesson 3: There’s No System to Manipulate

In one of his more profoundly nihilistic (but truthful) moments, Draper tells a group of Greenwich Village hipsters, “I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie, there is no system, the universe is indifferent.” Simply put, if you think you’ve figured out some system or some kind of “magical formula” to reach your customers, then it’s ultimately doomed to failure. It may work for a short time, but the only way to reach your customers consistently is by putting in the requisite work. Only then will you understand their needs and what motivates them to buy from you.

Lesson 4: Advertising is Based on Selling Happiness

During a meeting with Lucky Strike in the 2007 episode “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” Draper is hard pressed answer his clients’ objections and concerns about the advertising tactic his firm has proposed. The meeting takes an abrupt turn, however, when he expresses a fundamental truth of the business. “Advertising is based on one thing — happiness. And 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 the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay.” In short, people are constantly seeking validation for their own actions and beliefs, and good creative is capable of reaffirming those things.

Lesson 5: Changing the Conversation

Possibly the most memorable quote from the entire series came in season 3, during a pitch to Madison Square Garden’s developers. At the time, there had been a significant public outcry about the proposed stadium, and the Garden’s representatives were concerned about how public perception was trending. Draper’s answer was simple. He said, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” By allowing you to choose the topic and how it’s discussed, advertising has the power to frame a conversation and drive it in an entirely new direction.

At Mediagistic, we believe in the precepts of creative advertising. And as the nation’s largest local advertising and marketing firm, we know what a well-executed creative advertising campaign ultimately can accomplish for your business. Learn more about our creative services today or contact us directly for additional information.

Image via Flickr by fung.leo

cm_teamelements_eddieEddie Childs is the Inbound Marketing Manager for Mediagistic. His writing has been published by a range of websites and publications including,,,, and Boating World, KnowAtlanta, Men’s Book, Cobb in Focus, TCL, Blush, Charged Electric Vehicles, Business to Business, and Catalyst magazines.

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