What Don Draper Knows That You Don’t About Persuasion and Success

What Don Draper Knows That You Don’t About Persuasion and Success

Reader Comments (46)

  1. Who would have guessed such valuable marketing lessons could be learned from a TV show? But you do raise some great points, especially about tapping in to what people really want. The “why” is a very powerful marketing tool.

    • The TV show is (at least in part) about the marketing world, so the lessons are there in every scene. Show is gorgeous, beautifully written and acted, and well worth watching!

      • Wow – Agree with Nick, here. Mad Men has always been on my “to watch when I have spare time (aka – never…)” list, but I might have to bump it up if there’s going to be so much great marketing/writing/life wisdom being thrown around.

        Great post, Sean!

  2. What I love about “Change the conversation” is that it doesn’t just apply to copywriting or marketing or PR, it’s also some pretty damn good advice for life in general. Some of the least happy people I know are those who think there is only one, true, correct way to see every situation.

    What I LOVE about being a writer is often I can help my readers and audience see things in a new way that offers them a solution to their problems. All of us get stuck sometimes and by being that outsider who “changes the conversation”, I can offer them real value.

    • So true.

      I actually use the “Change the conversation” advice with my children all the time!

      And it’s so true about giving new perspective to old problems. How many times in your life have you listened to someone new, when they’re saying the same things people close to you have been saying forever? Simple human nature.

  3. Nice post Sean. I enjoy Mad Men as well. Do you think there is something to the fact that some
    e of lifes most successful people are also so messed up? Draper had one hell of a screwed up life but it gave him the perspective to succeed in advertising. I feel like I see this quite a bit in the real world too.

    • Yes and no.

      Certainly I think it makes for a better story. If Don wasn’t a mess personally, there’d be no hero’s journey and we wouldn’t be nearly as compelled to watch. And yes, many successful people pare messed up. So are many unsuccessful people. There are also plenty of massively successful people who are entirely together (as much as anyone can be).

      Just because some musicians make amazing music while under the influence doesn’t mean you’re required to be under the influence to make great music.

      • I don’t want to be anything like Don Draper. His ending is going to be him jumping of a tall building (Right after he pisses in pants after drinking too much alcohol)….

        There is no happiness for the cynics.

  4. Your quote “An echo is never as steady or strong as the original shout” really resonated with me.

    The people and companies that separate themselves in unique ways are the ones that (in many but not all examples) become successful.

    For example, Lady Gaga. She takes a nontraditional approach to her wardrobe selection and made it work for her. People like to see things that are different.

  5. Brilliant writing Sean! My friends thought I was nuts when I started watching Mad Men for the glimpses into marketing and advertising genius. 🙂

  6. My favorite Draper quote didn’t make this list. In fact, I had a few like that because I would’ve needed too much context to make them work. But it’s the quote from “The Suitcase” episode. The entire scene where Don starts with “That’s what the money is for!” and ends with “You’re a little early in your career to be counting ideas” is just flat out fantastic.

  7. Thanks Dana.

    And yeah, there are plenty of reasons to watch that show. The marketing genius is the bonus. 🙂

  8. Big thank you Sean. How many times I’ve listened to Draper’s sparkling, crisp and clinical insights while my inner work voice screamed “Stop! Write it Down! NOW!”. Glad it shouted loud enough for you to listen :).

    • I would totally watch that show with a notebook in hand, if it wasn’t supposed to be time when I’m with my wife and “not working.” Can’t blame me for keeping the brain on, though!

  9. Bravo! The show is like a goldmine…thanks for uncovering some more. I just wish I can give something back for all ur invaluable insights. As copywriter – the show has really helped me a lot, being that I discovered it when I newly joined my agency.

  10. Have you ever been accused of being off-brief when presenting your work? Then you don’t know *Planning.*

    If Copywriters bothered to learn about Planning, these Mad Men insights wouldn’t be such a big deal.

    I’m amazed at how many Copywriters think the term “Planning” means to organize plans for something. “Account Planning” or simply “Planning” is a funny advertising industry term that actually means “insight finding,” which is the art of seeing what makes people tick, what motivates them, and how to persuade them.

    Don Draper is a Creative Director who does off-the-cuff Planning for dramatic effect on the show, but in real life the Planning is done by someone hired specifically just to find these insights. The Planner’s product is the insight combined with strategy, or the creative brief. A good Planner will have a brief that naturally inspires the Creatives. But many smaller agencies don’t have Planners, so insights are often not so sharp. It’s the job of the Creatives then to fill in the gap.

    A good Copywriter can be clever, but a good Copywriter who also knows Planning will *conquer*. I suggest reading *Truth, Lies and Advertising: The Art of Account Planning* by Jon Steel. You’ll be talking like Don Draper in no time.

    • Just ordered it from Amazon, though if I let loose any more Draperisms, might wife might ask me to sleep on the couch. 🙂

  11. I like “If you don’t like the conversation, change it.” I’ve been trying to do that more in comments on blog posts for starters – used to be if I saw a trend in opinion that I didn’t like, I’d just leave. Now I just throw in the opposing two cents to see what happens. It’s great to see people start to change their tune when they see the discussion from a different perspective.

  12. Can’t beat a show that quotes Frank O’hara. Nice post.

    “Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this.” is going up on my bulletin board.

  13. Sean,

    Yes, all good stuff, without a doubt. Brilliant thoughts, but – and I probably don’t even need to tell you this – Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and the show’s other fantastic writers, I feel, deserve at least a passing mention for supplying the dialogue, to give credit where credit is due and all.

    Fun post though, for sure!



  14. We want a copywriter like Peggy on our team and need a Joan to keep all the “girls” in line.
    A DD would not be too bad either.

    Great article!

    – Kelly

  15. Sean,

    Thank you for writing this fab post. We, your readers, really appreciate your contributions.

    Indeed, it is true that you can find marketing insights in a TV show, as you have mentioned. However, marketing insights can be gleaned from things outside of the media and entertainment industry as well.

    Morever, it is important to remember that glamour sells only to a niche audience. The vast majority of the human race does not know about Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy–after all, they are American icons.

    The vast majority of the human race are concerned only about “bread and butter” issues. Most people are struggling just to get by, living paycheck to paycheck–and those are the lucky ones. So, Lucky Strikes and Virginia Slims adverts would not sell to such a mass audience. Again, it is important to remember this is only a nice audience.

    I think marketing as a discipline has borrowed a lot from the field of pschology, that is, over the years. This is not always acknowledged by marketers, but I think it is true. Copywriters are the “hidden persuaders” who try to sell a product or service to a captive audience. They have learned a lot about human pyschology through sales pitches.

    Just playing the devil’s advocate here, so don’t hit me over the head with a soup ladle–at least not yet. In any case, I really enjoyed reading your article. The next thing on my agenda is to watch the TV episodes–you sold me on it.


  16. Love this! One of my favorite lessons from Don Draper and Mad Men? Shut up. Put the pen down (or take your fingers off the keys) and STOP writing. Use fewer words. Let images tell your story. Stop being so literal. Use white space the way Mad Men uses long silences and pregnant pauses. I’ve thought a lot about what writers can learn from actors, TV, the movies (and in fact have a book coming out on the subject). I’m a writer, but I’m always looking for ways, other than words, to express ideas.

  17. Thanks for the article. I could picture the scenes of the show reading each quote. The Nostagia quote from the Kodak Carousel pitch remains one of the most powerful scenes of television I’ve seen in years.

  18. Great post Sean, been collecting the quotes for very long? My favorite is one of the shortest: “Success comes from standing out, not fitting in” – so simple, but so many (especially marketers) fail to grasp it..

    • Also my favorite Daniel… some people are trying hard to be someone else. What they are missing is the fact that every human being has its own potential and ability to develop and be proud of.

  19. Great post! I love when TV shows and movies are used in writing well. I’ve honestly never watched Mad Men before, its always just been on a ‘check out and maybe start watching later’ list for me. But these quotes seem rather funny, so I may just have to make time to start watching. If I need an excuse I can always just say its educational!

  20. The first time I watched the show I understood what love at first sight really was.

    The second time I learned many quotes, ideas, one-liners, and appreciated it even more.

    I’m watching it for the third time . . . just because. I cannot get enough of it. I believe that watching a TV show, especially if you’re in love with it, can build character and can teach you a lesson or two.

    I’m glad someone was able to value the lessons in the show, and eloquently put it in words for us writers to be inspired, and to learn a great lesson.

    Definitely re-reading this over and over and over.

  21. I simply love Mad Men.
    Don draper is a great character and there’s huge value to find in how he acts. Although it’s all acting, but there are still lessons to be learned.
    I especially resonated with the Nostalgia line. I recently went to Video Games Live which is a concert which tributes the greatest video games of our time, by playing famous tunes from the games. From mario brothers to metal gear solid. Oh I long for those days.

This article's comments are closed.