Lessons from the Real “Mad Men” of the 1960s for Small Businesses Today

As Mad Men, one of television’s most popular and honored series, has just finished it’s penultimate fifth season, it’s interesting to wonder if the guys in skinny ties can teach us something about small business marketing in the age of instant everything.

The Cast of Mad Men
Are there any relevant takeaways that small business owners can glean from the 1960s era marketing? Can the real Mad Men of the 60s, along with their fictitious whisky-drinking, skirt-chasing brethren from 50 years later, teach us anything about small business marketing in the age of social media? The answer is a resounding yes.

The Real Mad Men of the 1960s

David Ogilvy, the father of modern advertising.

David Ogilvy, the father of modern advertising.

Mad Men is a shortening of the term Madison Avenue Men, and was created by the advertising industry in the 1950s to give its workers a cool name. David Ogilvy is considered one of the original Mad Men, and is arguably the most important figure in the history of advertising.

The wisdom of an original Mad Men like Ogilvy definitely applies today. The quotable and flamboyant (he loved top hats) Ogilvy’s four principles of advertising are still über-relevant, 60 years after he founded his first agency.

“You want to be on some people’s minds. Some people, you don’t.” Roger Sterling, Mad Men

This quip echoes Ogilvy’s emphasis on research, the first of his four principles. Roger seems to be saying that not everyone will be in the market for your firm’s products, so it’s crucial to determine your target market before starting your marketing efforts.

Interviewing Real Small Business Owners

Moye Handling Systems Industrial Small Business WebsiteRuss Chelak, owner of overhead hoist and crane provider HoistDepot, understands this, especially when it concerns the use and effectiveness of social media marketing. “The assumption that social media will reach every target audience member” is wrong, he said.

Ogilvy was such a believer in research that the title he chose for himself at the first advertising firm he started was research director. Most small business owners don’t have a marketing staff so it’s important to partner with a business marketing company that takes research seriously.

“I prefer the discipline of knowledge to the anarchy of ignorance.” David Ogilvy

Unlike the scotch-swigging, chain-smoking characters on Mad Men, Ogilvy was a moderate drinker and smoker who took his work very seriously. He would never appear at a client meeting hungover and unprepared and wing his presentation like Mad Men’s Don Draper did. Unlike Don, Ogilvy had professional discipline, the second of his advertising tenets.

Don Draper for Small BusinessSuccessfully marketing a small business requires an Ogilvy-like focus on doing what works. Throwing darts at the marketing dartboard after a three martini lunch and making passes at a coworker won’t make the orders roll in, even if it makes for a great TV show.

“Left to themselves, most products will die a slow death without maintaining the brand image in the publics’ eye,” Russ said. “It requires reactive and proactive efforts to keep existing customers and find new ones.” In other words, discipline

“You want some respect? Go out there and get it for yourself.” ““ Don Draper to Peggy Olson, Mad Men

How does a small business attract new clients? Perhaps the best way is to do great work for existing clients (what Ogilvy called creative brilliance or The Big Idea), who will do your advertising for you. Ogilvy’s success with his early clients allowed him to land huge accounts like Rolls Royce and Shell.

Small business owners know that this strategy works. “Having clients create demand has been huge,” said Kimberly Kay, co-owner of an award-winning wedding photography service based out of Bend, Oregon. “Print ads have not been a good source of bringing in clients. Word of mouth and social media “which gets our work out there front and center” and getting our clients to rave about us has been our strongest and most effective marketing tool.

Wedding photography

Kimberly Kay photography uses a variety of digital marketing techniques, such as content marketing through a blog, to bolster their brand.

“I blog nearly every job I shoot. I use Facebook to friend all of my clients. Then when I post a blog I repost it on Facebook and tag the clients. It reaches all of my clients and all of their friends.”

“In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.” David Ogilvy

Kimberly loves this quote, as her business is all about achieving results for clients, the last of Ogilvy’s tenets.

“You do not really have a business until you have made a sale,” she said. “Through your clients, opportunities will come, now and into the future. As creative professionals, we think it’s important to sell your career in the direction you would like to go. We are full-time wedding photographers and that requires a full time sales effort to support. Even when we are shooting we are selling. Sales fuel creation.”

“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” Good point, Don. How about starting a conversation with BWD?