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Mad men never die. They just change their business card.

“Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

Bill Bernbach

Recently there have been a whole lot of articles in the trade about the demise of Mad Men. They relate to the television show and allude to the end of advertising as we know it. The argument is that advertising used to be about charisma and persuasion. It was an art practised by salesmen with a Scotch in one hand and a crazy idea in the other. They are now in the past. The world has changed.

Now, the world is about programmatic buying, experience management platforms and realtime optimisation technology. And you know what, it probably is. There is no doubt there has been more innovation in our industry in the last 10 years than in the 100 years preceding it. We now have access to massive amounts of data which can tell us all sorts of things about consumers. This has given many the impression that advertising can be a science. This is an attempt to create certainty in the most uncertain of worlds, the future. Just ask a weatherman.

My response to that is what happens when you know where the consumer is and what they like and how many times they want it? What are you going to say that is different to everybody else who will also have this data? Many believe all you have to do is find the consumer. I disagree. You will need to differentiate yourself. You will need an idea. You will need creativity.

So, as much as I have no doubt that the industry is going to get a lot better at finding consumers at the right time and at the right place we still better have something to say. We will still need creativity to persuade more than the next guy who has just as much data as you. I have no doubt job titles may change but those that practice the art of persuasion will remain in this business.

There is also another reason mad men will remain. Let me talk about a strange quirk that happens in our business hundreds of times a day around the world. Despite all the innovation that has happened this dance hasn’t changed one bit since advertising began. And I can’t imagine it ever will. The reason it hasn’t changed is because of a simple fact that many in our industry forget. Our business is made of people. And people are made up of opinions, feelings and beliefs. Even if you have great data different people will have different opinions about what should be done with it. And, there is one event that happens daily that shows this better than any other. So, what is this strange dance I speak of?

The pitch. This is why the strong persuaders, the mad men of today, will survive.

Pitches. Ah the agony and the ecstasy. While I am writing this, there is a slightly sweaty somebody with the faint aroma of Red Bull running into a room with a lap top or some white boards that are sticky because the studio only finished them 30 seconds before our hero had to get in the cab. He or she will have to stand there and in 60 minutes present and persuade the audience that the idea they are presenting is the best.

In 60 minutes, you have to talk about the clients business for perhaps the next 3 years. You have to show them something that doesn’t exist. Invisible architecture. A vision so obvious, nobody in the room saw it. You have to replace their worry with a way. You have to make them nod. You have to make them feel. You have to make them fucking believe. In 60 minutes.

That is a skill. If you don’t believe me, try it.

The uncomfortable truth is for us to be able to sell to others we need to be sold to as well. We need to believe in something to take a risk.The data might take you to the edge. Mad men convince you to jump. And these days jumping has never been more important.

From Steve Jobs to Elon Musk, or if you prefer advertising greats, Bill Bernbach to Dan Wieden, the greatest creatives are great salesmen. They understand the power of vision, creativity and hope. They understand we are talking to people not machines.

In the future, you might argue what kind of ideas being sold might change. True. But ideas still need to be sold. And, if it needs to be sold, mad men will still exist. Whatever their business card says.

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5 thoughts on “Mad men never die. They just change their business card.

  1. Jake Morrison says:

    I’m an advertising copywriter, so you’ll have to excuse me for correcting you.

    ‘…the feint aroma of Red Bull…’ should read, ‘the faint aroma of Red Bull…’

    Superb piece though.

  2. Jake Morrison says:

    Well, as a former fellow DDBer (ex Sydney), please say good morning to Ben Pegler, then tell him he’s fired.

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