It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: What 'Mad Men' Can Teach Us About Branding
For those longing for the 'good ol' days' of the 1960s, the AMC hit series, Mad Men is a great place to which to escape. Even Don Draper refers to the power of nostalgia when pitching the Kodak carousel (Season 1, finale), and the same definitely applies to this series as a whole. Fans seem to not only be drawn in by the characters and the storylines, but fascinated by the workplace dynamic between men and women, entranced by the different gender roles, and enamored with the '60s fashion.
From throwback looks topped with fedoras, to '60s-style nods of tailored suits with skinny ties, there has been a vintage style resurgence, as fans and non-fans alike adopt some of that fine, Draper style. For some, attempting to recapture those magic moments from the '60s means mimicking the fashion from the era in an effort to 'go back in time.' So, it’s no surprise that Mad Men leapt at the opportunity to bring these character looks to life with an official Mad Men collection. Pairing with major retailer Banana Republic, the show's own costume designer collaborated with the company to create the collection, and launched the second release of the line on March 1, 2012.
The show returned (finally) on March 25, after seventeen months off the air, with contract disputes and other issues to blame. Yet, despite not having a current season or storyline, the show still managed to stay relevant and in the spotlight with the fashion line and the creative promotion of it, including a pop-up fashion show at 35,000 feet, where the second collection made its debut on a Virgin America flight from New York to LAX.
While fans awaited the next chapter of the popular period series, they were satiated with the ultimate money-making, cross-marketing venture: a merchandise line that fans are clamoring over. Disney still does it best with their Disney Princess collections: young girls wanting to dress like their cartoon idols, with matching dress, shoes, and accessories, and some Mad Men fans are following that same blueprint by embracing the mid-century modern look with this collection. The character merchandising template that Disney perfected has been adopted for adults, and AMC is truly capitalizing.
Now, the fashion line may not directly have anything to do with the show itself, but the Banana Republic collection did an excellent job generating attention for it. The product launch (in its first release, and in its second) has been wildly successful, not to mention that all of this buzz, just weeks before the Season 5 premiere, led fans right where they wanted them: salivating and begging for more Mad Men. Genius.
Perhaps it is the desire to live in what we imagine to have been a simpler time that draws us into this 'Mad' world: Before wireless telephones. Before online dating. Before Facebook. Conveniently, we ignore the fact that this was, in reality, a tumultuous time in American history, which the show itself acknowledges with storylines that touch on civil rights and racial conflict, the Kennedy assassination, and the social issues of infidelity and divorce. Additionally, we forgive the misogynistic tendencies and questionable personal habits of the main characters, since they are just a "sign of the times." Happily, we accept these not-so-pleasant pieces of the period in exchange for the seemingly glamorous parts, which include clearly defined gender roles, subtle hints of sensuality, instead of overt sexuality, and, of course, dapperly dressed men and women.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and the show takes us to this imaginary place that we yearn to return to, even with the unpleasantries that come with it. Like Don Draper himself asserts, "Nostalgia. It's delicate, but potent... In Greek, 'nostalgia' literally means 'the pain from an old wound.' It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone... It takes us to a place where we ache to go again."
Bottom line: Using nostalgia as its vehicle, Mad Men has brilliantly managed to plant itself at the forefront of both the fashion and media worlds, even while the show itself wasn’t airing. Mad Men is no longer just a television show, it’s a powerful brand. And that brand has positioned itself in a way that guarantees relevance in American popular culture for years to come.