Well, after seven fabulous series, Mad Men finally departed from our screens last week. I haven’t seen the final half of series 7 yet, so no spoilers please! But as we settle down to re-watch our boxsets and wave an emtional goodbye to Don Draper, Pete Campbell, Peggy Olsen and the rest of the team, it is perhaps a good time to reflect on how the challenges faced by TV’s favourite creative team aren’t so dissimilar to we face today.
The late 1950s and 1960s were considered to be a revolutionary period in advertising, with the little box in the corner of every middle class lounge provoking a sea change in the way ad men (and, like Peggy and Phyllis K Robinson, ad women) approached their craft. Yes, of course, it was the advent of TV – the ‘new media’ of 50 years ago.
Just as in 1927, when billboard posters were causing a bit of a stir in the advertising world, the advent of TV was believed to represent a complete change to the way advertisers would talk to consumers. The ‘old ways’ of talking to an audience would no longer cut it, surely? TV, after all, was a revolution – wasn’t it?
Of course, what the ad men and women of the 1960s quickly learnt was that while media channels can change, people – fundamentally – remain the same. Audiences still responded emotionally to stories. It didn’t matter whether the mechanism of telling that story was a couponed press ad, a billboard poster, a radio jingle or a TV ad. So long as the ad execs knew who they wanted to talk to, what they wanted that audience to do, and why the audience should do it, then they could tell the story they needed to tell.
Fast forward 50 years and instead of TV, the ‘new media’ we grapple with today are digital and social channels. It’s tempting once more to declare that all the rules have changed – that nothing has been the same since Zuckerberg published Facebook and every BBC panel show declared its own hashtag.
But the truth is, people still haven’t changed that much since 1960, or 1926, or the centuries before. When it comes to fundraising marketing in particular, we still feel angry, outraged and saddened by injustice. We still feel joy when witnessing the inspiring actions of others. We still connect to individuals’ stories. We still want to make a difference in the world.
Digital and social media have given us new ways to talk to our audience – just as TV did. They are a fantastic addition to a creative marketeer’s palette, giving us new avenues to explore and new ways to engage our prospects. But unless we know what we want to say, who we want to say it to, and what we want our audience to do, then all the clever technologies in the world aren’t going to help us raise money for our clients.
The great campaigns throughout history have done well because they have connected with an audience on a human and emotional level. Be it the Smash robots TV ad or the #nomakeupselfie. They’ve told stories, they’ve provoked a response, they’ve caused an individual to choose to take an action. The mechanism may be different. Media channels may have revolutionised. But the way we, as people, respond? Well, we’re still people. How we talk to one another is still what matters most – even if the place where we start the conversation has changed.