Don Draper Is Dead

April 5, 2011

Would we be as interested if they were developing algorithms for Groupon?

This is John Reinan’s weekly marketing column for

I’ve always been fascinated by the “Mad Men” era of advertising. And not because of the drinking, smoking and fooling around. (Although I have some clients who would be pretty entertaining at a three-martini lunch.)

One reason for my interest is the focus on creativity. The message and the presentation were everything, because you didn’t need to think too much about the venue. In Don Draper’s day, you could buy a spot on network TV and pretty much be assured of reaching a third or more of American consumers. Take out an ad in any city’s leading newspaper and the local market coverage would be even greater. With relatively few mass advertising channels, the message was king.

Today, I’d argue that the medium has become just as important. There are so many ways of reaching consumers that choosing the right channel is as critical as what you have to say.

Talking recently with a group of businesspeople, I asked them how they got their information. Their answers were all over the map. One reads blogs almost exclusively. Another relies on Facebook and Twitter, while one swears by the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the avenues for direct communication with consumers continue to grow. Direct mail remains an important method of one-to-one marketing, but there’s also email and a rapidly multiplying roster of digital venues like Foursquare, Groupon and Crowdcut.

Naturally, you’re going to want an effective message for consumers in these venues and present it well. But when your message is, “Here’s a coupon for 50 percent off a sandwich” – well, your main challenge is finding people to act on your coupon, not crafting a clever and compelling combination of words and images that draw them in to learn more about your product.

One-to-one marketing is still a relatively new concept. Methods we take for granted, such as 1-800 numbers, magazine subscription cards and customer loyalty programs, were created and widely adopted only within the last 50 years or so.

Now the digital revolution is spinning off one-to-one communication opportunities faster than the average person can keep up with them. In the marketing world, the role of digital strategists and planners will grow in importance, because finding the right avenues for engaging with consumers is more crucial than ever. You can’t deliver your message if you don’t have an audience. Identifying those increasingly fragmented and dispersed audiences is becoming perhaps the most critical piece of any marketing campaign.

In short, Don Draper is being replaced by the propeller-heads. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just different.