Guest Post: What Would Don Draper Do?

3 mins read
April 8, 2013

As the new season of Mad Men is set to start this week my anxiousness led me to look back and recollect some fun lessons I had picked up not only from the episodes, but also from what the show represents. I decided to put things down in writing and share my thoughts.

Put out a first rate product

Not everybody loves the show but for those that do they see the hard work that has been put into it. It is the uncompromising approach of:

 Maintaining the integrity of the product from its visuals, dialogue and pace.
 Knowing what it is, who it’s for and why it is successful.
 Weaving a complex tapestry of characters that develop in a bygone era but with lessons that are relevant even for today.
 Being paradoxical in a way in that while it is slow paced by normal standards – it savours every moment that a brief encounter can speak volumes.

While an Indonesian soap opera might take 10 minutes to explain to us what a character is feeling, it may take a character in Mad Men a simple glance to convey the same emotion. That is quality.

Cater to your audience

It seems that we are in an era where the mass audience prefer light, easy to follow and fast paced narrative. Mad Men is the opposite. It does not allow you to join halfway and still follow – it requires you to watch intently from the beginning. A gesture in one episode may not mean anything until it is revealed later in the season why that gesture meant so much.Mad Men loyalists are generally thinkers who want to break things down and make their own interpretations. It is made for audiences that see quick payoffs as unsatisfying. They understand the value of patience and letting things simmer to produce a more powerful story. The show makes subtle references that sometimes require a second viewing.

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 4.23.36 PM

All in all they know the people that will appreciate them and they continue to keep doing the things that make us engaged.

Tell a timeless story (solve a timeless problem)


A timeless story to me must revolve around universal human experiences. In a way the problem your product is solving should ideally produce long term opportunities. People will always need to eat, find their purpose, make a living, locate suitable accommodation, travel, and of course find companionship. Any service that successfully enables, support, expand and celebrate this has a good chance to last a long time.

Don’t wait, initiate

Shall I wait until the new season goes live on cable TV in a few weeks? Nope.

The Internet has changed things for me. I no longer have the patience to wait things out for content the way I used to when I was younger. Waiting for the new season to come out on TV a few weeks or months later is like waiting until the university semester begins, when the fact is you can start learning online right now. If the content is there and is available why must you wait?

This PR incident

I was approached by a local PR agency a few years ago who wanted me to help with one of their digital campaigns. After a short conversation it became clear they had not identified the right PR approach to the issue before we could move on to a digital plan. I am not a PR expert but I remembered a scene from a Mad Men episode where Don Draper tells a potential client:

“P.R. people understand this, but they can never execute it. If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation.” – Love among the ruins (Season 3, Episode 2)

I performed this line on our PR agency friends, word for word. Surprisingly they were awestruck.

Thanks Don!


This scene

There are many scenes worth mentioning but I will leave you with my favourite. It is the scene from season 1 that cemented my loyalty to following this series to the end. No further words necessary.

What did you enjoy from the show?


Razi Thalib has been working in digital media for the last decade. He currently runs a digital management consultancy bbda.co.id and started an online dating site called setipe.com; previously he lead digital product management and marketing at Zalora Indonesia. You can read his brain farts on twitter @RaziThalib but he recommends instead that you get back to work!

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