Thursday, May 8, 2014

GH's Throwback Thursday Mad Men edition: "The Monolith"

Before we get into this week's Throwback post, let's settle something really quickly: Lou Avery might not be such a jerk after all.

According to this article in Ad Age, some of his attitudes towards advertising were fairly common at that time:

"The 1960 U.S. Census began to offer segmented research, not only on per-capita income and population density but also on lifestyles. Advertisers could more narrowly target their consumers, and increasingly did so using 'psychographic' data to create image campaigns. In the late 1960s, when it became apparent that an economic recession was likely, marketers moved away from image advertising and toward research-backed, results-driven strategies. Some marketers even canceled ad campaigns or took their marketing activity in-house."

Research-backed, results-driven strategies. Yup. That's Lou Avery.

It's also the new computer being installed in the offices of Sterling Cooper & Partners on this week's Mad Men, Episode 7.4: "The Monolith"—a computer the agency is only really able to afford because they've decided to bring Don Draper back on board.

If the partners had chosen to set him loose, as they mentioned on "Field Trip," they would also have to buy his shares, which would be a pretty pricey move.

So whether he realizes it or not, Don is somewhat responsible for the introduction of this computer, the very thing that seems to be "erasing" creatives like himself.

Speaking of creatives, let's revisit the reasons Don was forced to leave the offices in the first place.

In the final episode of season six, “In Care Of,” Don's pitch to Hershey was unintentionally emotional and revealing, putting an end to a season full of impulsive, sometimes alcohol-fueled, behavior on his part:

"I'm sorry. I have to say this because I don't know if I'll ever see you again. I was an orphan. I grew up in Pennsylvania in a whorehouse. I read about Milton Hershey and his school in Coronet magazine or some other crap that the girls left by the toilet. And I read that some orphans had a different life there. I could picture it. I dreamed of it—of being wanted. Because the woman who was forced to raise me every day would look at me like she hoped I would disappear. The closest I got to feeling wanted was from a girl who made me go through her johns' pockets while they screwed. If I collected more than a dollar, she'd buy me a Hershey's bar. And I would eat it alone…in my room…with great ceremony…feeling like a normal kid. And it said 'sweet' on the back. It was the only sweet thing in my life."

So was anyone surprised on Sunday night to see this?

There's that little boy again, whom nobody wants, which Weiner has gone to great lengths to illustrate in both "Field Trip" and "The Monolith." And what is his snack of choice?

A candy bar.

And a can of Coke, which he later fills with vodka.

But back to the candy bar.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the first time we've seen Don eating candy, much less any kind of snack on Mad Men (not including those Ritz crackers two weeks ago). He's usually satisfying his oral fixation with drinks (which he's had to quit), women (which he's also had to quit, with the exception of his long-distance wife, Megan, and somewhat erotic books like Portnoy's Complaint) or cigarettes (OK, he's still way into those...but he does drop one under a radiator this episode, only to reveal a Mets pennant that belonged to a dead man, like the office he's working in, so maybe those will be on the way out soon, too).

By the way, before Lane's suicide, when Don fired him, he told him, "I've started over lots of times. It will get better."

Will it, Don? Ironic that he should have to start over in the office where Lane couldn't.

But back to the candy bar.

How, I have to ask, could the guy who's so emotionally attached to Hershey's, whose confession of which ultimately led to his downfall last could this guy be sitting in his office—finally back at work despite multiple severe stipulations—eating a Hershey's bar?

But wait...maybe it's not a Hershey's.

It's a Clark Bar.

"Don't eat that; you're so trim."

Poor, sweet, dim Meredith. "She has the mind of a child," as Peggy noted two episodes ago. And yet the libido of a teenager, apparently, as Weiner's utilizing her as the reminder that women are extra-hot for Don now that he's basically gone celibate.

Makes sense that Don might develop a distaste for Hershey. Plus, as Lou noted last episode, Ogilvy's now working on the Hershey account.

And that happened in real life, too.

About a year ago, Shawn Zupp of Ogilvy & Mather spoke at a Boston college regarding Hershey's first ads, designed by his company. Up until the late 1960s, just like Don said on the show, the company had no need to advertise.

But by 1969, candy ads were becoming more prevalent. And Hershey had Mars/M&Ms to contend with.

"They were very touchy-feely," Zupp said of the first ads, "because Hershey was just trying to evoke an emotional connection with consumers. This was a brand that was an American staple, had been passed down for generations and that people could remember enjoying as a kid."

My sources who lived through this time period told me, coincidentally, that when they saw Don eating the candy bar, it made them think of the only candy bar advertisement they remembered well from the 1960s: the Clark Bar's. That's because it featured an endearing, funny talking camel. And 20 years earlier, the print ads looked something like this:

The Clark Bar, the Center of Attraction.

That sounds like the kind of candy a grown-up Don might identify with. The bizarro bar to Dick Whitman's Hershey's.

As I perused the 1969 Good Housekeepings for this week's matchups, I was startled by how many more ads there were for candy and snacks than I'd noticed previously. Much like the sandwich-ad trend I mentioned in last week's post, from March through June (the timeframe of "The Monolith" is a bit up for debate, so I searched through several), there was a definite trend towards salt and sweetness.

Here they are, in order of appearance:

And this one's not even technically a snack food, but doesn't it look nutritious?

In Don's early days at Sterling Cooper, he was pitching a certain image, a kind of glamour. Coming off the 1950s, he was dealing in more prosperous times.

"Advertising is based on one thing: happiness," he told the men at Lucky Strike. "And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing is OK. You are OK."

And when he was pitching to Kodak, he was dealing in sentiment, because many people missed those more prosperous times:

"My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old pro copywriter. Greek, named Teddy. And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is 'new.' Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of…calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It's delicate…but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, 'nostalgia' literally means, 'the pain from an old wound.' It's a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a spaceship. It's a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called the Wheel. It's called a Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around, and back home again…to a place where we know we are loved."

Except for Don, as we learned last season, that place did not exist. He showed slides of his wife and kids as part of that presentation, not his childhood home. And, as we all know, those wife and kids don't exactly make up such a pretty picture anymore.

In 1969, the country was in a state of unrest. And Don knows that in a time of unrest, when public figures are being assassinated, when mass murderers take center stage, during a time of war, when protests for peace are killing students left and right, when your babies are leaving their babies behind to go live in hippie communes, when machines seem to be replacing man, when, as Don McLean might say, the music has died, America wants the comfort of a Hershey's.

Or maybe a French fry.

We leave Don at the end of "The Monolith," after watching him break every single SC&P rule he'd agreed to follow (and yet somehow not get caught), sitting at his typewriter, trying to come up with 25 tags for a popular fast-food restaurant called Burger Chef. In the 1960s, this company created the Fun Meal, a precursor to the McDonald's Happy Meal—a treat that would bring comfort to kids in its sweet and salty goodness and later to those same kids once they'd become adults.

It's cradle-to-grave marketing. And Don's going to be a genius at it.

In case you were wondering, you don't have to look far these days, either, to find those sweet and salty comfort foods in Good Housekeeping. What could be more comforting than the treat on the cover of our June issue, Grown-Up S'Mores?

Tomorrow in my Outtakes post, I'll share with you some of the coolest fashion matchups I found this week.

Until then, "You're in charge, sweetheart."

(I hate to quote Lou, but I just had to do it. Good for Peggy for getting some authoritah.)

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