Top Advertising Lessons from Mad Men

Author: Kristen Lund Date: April 09, 2014

Draperisms that help small business owners sell products.

Set in 1960s New York, AMC’s hit show Mad Men chronicles the cutthroat world of advertising decades before “digital” became a word people uttered daily. The characters’ casual, in-office scotch drinking may be passé, but many of the show’s elements still ring true in today’s tech-driven advertising world.

As the owner of a small advertising agency, Denise Blasevick, CEO of The S3 Agency in Boonton, N.J., is a diehard Mad Men fan. Here, she offers three tips from the show that every small business owner should implement.

If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.

Spoken by Don Draper, Mad Men’s advertising mogul, this oft-quoted line is relevant for brands of any size.

“The word ‘conversation’ can be so many things—social media posts, public relations coverage, water cooler chat, reviews, customer service emails—and any positive engagement can result in sales,” Blasevick says. “Of course, if what [people are] saying about you is wrong, bad or both, you’re the only one who can do something to make them change their conversations.”

Attract customers who respect you.

Another Mad Men line that Blasevick has taken to heart comes from Draper’s response to a copywriter’s statement that “sex sells.” Draper’s reply: “Says who? Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this.”

“Don’s insights go far beyond advertising concepts,” Blasevick says. “What he’s really talking about is respect from clients. Clients who don’t respect your business, clients who commoditize what you and your team do, aren’t the clients you want to keep.”

As a small business owner, ask yourself if your services or products are geared toward the kinds of customers you truly want to attract and retain. “If you can’t prove your value enough to earn someone’s respect,” Blasevick says, “they may be doing more harm than any amount of profit is worth.”

Target emotions.

Draper’s definition of advertising is that it’s “based on one thing: happiness.” Your advertising should make people feel something and associate that feeling with your product or service. “When we create campaigns for clients, we don’t just look at what we are helping them sell,” Blasevick says. “We look past that to see what we want to make potential buyers feel. Connecting emotionally is what separates brands from commodities.”

Subscribe For Free News And Tips

Enter your email to get FREE small business insights. Learn more

Get to know NFIB

NFIB is America's leading small business association, promoting and protecting the right of our members to own, operate and grow their business

Find out more about
NFIB Membership

Or call us today



State Issues

Choose Your State


YEF Foundation Research Foundation Legal Foundation

Member Benefits