You need not be a product of the sixties to experience the sixties.

Mad MenThe producers of AMC’s Mad Men can attest to this. Since 2007, the series about advertising in 1960s American society has masterfully wielded marketing partnerships with both modern and legacy brands across a range of industries—retail, finance, household goods. While brands of yore can benefit from narrative integration, companies born post-sixties can reap rewards from campaigns outside the context of the show. Unlike many of its competitors, Mad Men’s producers collaborate with sponsors to develop campaigns reflective of the show’s distinctive personality. Hipster brands looking for flashy gimmicks should seek representation elsewhere. Associating with this award-winning series connects mid- to high-end brands with an intellectual, “taste-making” audience spanning 20-year-old consumers to 54-year-old baby boomers.

Background

Set in New York City, Mad Men tells the story of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a fictional Madison Avenue advertising agency, as it rises through the golden age of advertising. It offers a candid depiction of the political and social transformation from the conservative 1950s to the “swinging sixties.” The show is renowned for its provocative portrayal of sharply dressed ad execs who embrace chain-smoking, propositioning women and drinking scotch before noon; all this while conjuring up campaigns for clients such as Hilton Hotels, Heineken and Maidenform. Mad Men marries fictional storylines and ad campaigns with real products and events. Fans and critics alike feed off the nostalgia, the characters’ personal and professional struggles, and the behind-the-scenes world of advertising.

Since premiering in July 2007, four seasons have aired, the last of which ended in fall 2010. In March 2011, AMC picked up Mad Men for a fifth and sixth season. In 2010, it made history as the first basic cable television show to win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series for three consecutive years. Additionally, it has received numerous awards from the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America. This critically acclaimed show is now AMC’s highest-rated original series.

Although viewership was initially lower than similar shows on other networks, it has increased with each subsequent season. The consistent increase is largely attributed to the fact that Mad Men is heavily watched via DVR and TiVo. Nielsen Media rated it number two in its 2009 Top 10 list of digitally recorded primetime programming. This helps capture first-time viewers, converting them to watch the show live. Prospects are strong for increased viewership over upcoming seasons.

Analysis 

A common misperception is that because Mad Men is a period piece only legacy brands can partner with it. However, Mad Men benefits brands of all eras in a variety of industries, including consumer goods, luxury goods, retail, spirits, automotive and financial services.

Banana Republic, founded in 1978, negotiated a barter deal for three seasons. It collaborated with Mad Men to implement in-store and digital campaigns promoting both the show and the retailer’s new line of apparel. The series, lauded for its fashion, complements Banana Republic’s collection of stylish “work-wear.” Although Banana Republic marketing manager Michael Braga says it’s difficult to directly correlate sales with the campaigns, stores did experience an increase in visits. Braga notes, “Mad Men’s a hot show. It’s advantageous for any retailer to associate with it.” Banana Republic plans on partnering with Mad Men again for its fifth season.

Banana Republic Mad Men Collection With Mad Men’s core audience ranging from ages 25 to 54 and skewing 55 percent female, it’s no surprise that a retailer like Banana Republic would benefit from such a partnership. Mad Men boasts the highest concentration of “upscale” viewers as compared to other scripted series. More than 50 percent of its fans have household incomes of $100k and above. Banana Republic, which targets 25 to 44-year-old career-driven women with household incomes averaging $75k, thus reaches young, professional consumers who can afford its price point.

AMC’s marketing representative calls Mad Men viewers “tastemakers,” arbiters of trends who read publications such as The New Yorker and The New York Times as well as listen to NPR. He describes them as highly educated, liberal urbanites that frequent news and entertainment websites such as Salon.com and Gawker.com, and tune into shows like HBO’s True Blood.

Fans actively look for brands while watching Mad Men. AMC’s marketing representative explains, “It’s a show about advertising. Viewers are already primed to pay attention to brands.” Thirty-year-old viewer Gregg Lederman says brand integration is his favorite part. “It helps paint a picture of the decade.” He finds it interesting to see not only which brands have survived or fizzled, but also to discover brands he hadn’t realized existed.

For Utz Quality Foods, Inc., this worked in its favor. Utz potato chips have been on grocery store shelves for more than 75 years, but it is not a widely recognized brand. After Mad Men producers incorporated it into an ancillary storyline, Utz experienced an increase in brand awareness. Although the company did not pay for integration, Alec Sivel, vice president of marketing for Utz Quality Foods, Inc., says it was a great return on their product investment. “We received hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of TV exposure… not to mention thousands of dollars in PR exposure.” In fact, several viewers I interviewed had never heard of Utz prior to watching Mad Men. Deborah Lipp, creator of a popular Mad Men blog, explains that after seeing it featured on the show, she noticed it on concession stands and purchased a bag of Utz chips. “It amused me to buy it,” she says.

Brands say it’s difficult to attribute sales spikes to partnerships specific to any television series. Market research companies, however, did find an increase in “intent to purchase products” and a boost in “favorable attitudes towards brands” with some of Mad Men’s sponsors. iTVX, a company that measures effectiveness of commercials, reports that spots for Dove and Klondike improved overall perceptions of their parent company, Unilever.

Unilever produced commercial vignettes in conjunction with Mad Men to showcase the longevity in six of its affiliate brands. The minute-long spots featured another fictional 1960s ad agency developing campaigns for products such as Dove soap and Klondike Bars as they existed in the sixties. The commercials, which incorporated the same cinematic look and vernacular of Mad Men, then transitioned into present-day commercials for the same products.

These spots captured Mad Men’s audience who thought the vignettes were part of the show. One fan told stylist.com, “The real genius… is that when viewing the show on a DVR, you stop fast-forwarding at the start of the ad, thinking the show has resumed.” He said that for the first time in months he had watched an entire commercial. iTVX found a seven percent gain in brand attitude with a four percent increase in intent to purchase. In an interview with The New York Times, iTVX chief executive Frank Zazza explained that two to three percent increases are typically good. He called Unilever’s results “substantial.”

Mad Men Barbie Dolls

Mad Men Barbie Dolls

Although brand alliance in television programming is not a new concept, Mad Men effectively integrates sponsorships. Viewer Sarah Feinberg calls Mad Men’s brand integration tasteful. “It’s obvious in other shows, but it’s not gratuitous in Mad Men. I don’t know which brands paid for placement.” Executive producer Matthew Weiner prefers it this way. He weighs in on what and how brands can be integrated so they fit with the tone of the series. The collaboration ensures that neither the show nor its sponsors are cheapened by blatant gimmicks. Producers highlight brands in an entertaining way. They become as engaging as the show itself, making them more memorable.

A potential drawback for brands is that product integration must be bought as part of a larger spend with the network. Meaning, while a brand can be incorporated into the show, it must buy commercial time with AMC, not just the show itself. AMC’s marketing representative explains, “If you’ve never seen a commercial for a product or company on air or our website, then it’s a pretty solid bet they’re not a sponsor.” These multi-million dollar investments can be pricey.

What truly distinguishes Mad Men from the competition is its content. The show about advertising stands out from the slew of hospital and courtroom dramas. Additionally, its metaphorical script challenges the audience. Lederman notes, “Mad Men isn’t meant for cheap laughs or nicely wrapped storylines.” The period piece entwines intricate storylines with multivalent allegories. It receives praise for its witty dialogue, historical accuracy, cinematography and visual elements (set, wardrobe, etc.). It is void of background music or superfluous cues that add melodrama typical of other shows. The high production value captivates people who seek intellectually stimulating narratives rather than formulaic entertainment.

While ratings are lower in comparison with ad-supported drama series, the audience is different. Programming on TNT and USA is geared towards what AMC’s marketing representative describes as “middle America.” The average household income of TNT’s audience is $73k. Mad Men, on the other hand, boasts the wealthiest audience on television. Viewers are more apt to spend a little more for quality products.

The style of drama that sets Mad Men apart from TNT and USA also leverages it as a competitor for original dramatic programming on subscriber-based, premium cable channels. It embodies the same prestige as HBO’s hit series True Blood and Showtime’s Dexter, an uncommon correlation for basic cable shows. Although Mad Men’s ratings are on par with Showtime’s original series, they are not as strong as HBO’s. In 2010, True Blood’s season three finale held 5.38 million viewers, more than twice as many as Mad Men’s season four finale which aired that same year. However, AMC’s marketing representative explains that because revenue for these channels comes from subscribers, brands cannot buy ad time on HBO and Showtime series.

Recommendations

With nearly half of its audiences’ household earnings split above and below $100k, mid- to high-end brands can reach value-seeking consumers as well as those with discretionary income. Flashy brands targeting fad-obsessed emulators should steer clear. Mad Men works best with brands offering a sense of prestige and individuality.

Brands established after the sixties can work out a barter deal, buy commercial time or sponsor an event. Although The Standard Hotels is a modern national chain, it promotes itself as a boutique hotelier emphasizing luxury and a sense of individuality. It combines mid-century architecture with 1960s modish décor embodying an aura similar to that of Mad Men. Standard Hotels would be a great partner for Mad Men, sponsoring events such as a series premiere party.

 

Legacy brands needing to bolster their position in today’s market can also benefit. IBM, making a comeback after years of being dubbed a dinosaur, was considered groundbreaking in the sixties. It unveiled its revolutionary new line of computers in 1964. Now that IBM is starting to rebound, investing in show integration would help revitalize its image. It can supplement storyline integration with commercial spots and digital campaigns.

Preeminent brands that have been around for more than 50 years can likewise tap into Mad Men’s audience. High-end financial services company American Express could be woven into the show’s narrative. Targeting mid- to upper class businessmen and women, the prestigious image offered by American Express is in line with the image the show’s audience seeks. American Express began advertising its first credit card in the sixties. By 1967 it had become the most visible symbol for the company. Perfect timing with Mad Men since its upcoming season will purportedly cover 1967-1968.