3 Branding Lessons Learned from Mad Men (#Demand13)

Mad MenLast week, I attended the 2013 Vocus Conference, a Mad Men-themed event with Arianna Huffington as one of the keynotes. After missing two flights from Europe, taking a red eye to New York and driving to DC in order to attend the event, Huffington spoke about her opinions on the current communications environment and specifically how brands can best interact with their audiences. And, especially considering she only had three hours of sleep behind her (a habit she wouldn’t recommend), her comments were incredibly insightful and entertaining. Here are my biggest takeaways:

Authenticity Counts

With internet and social media now allowing consumers to peer into a brand’s soul, our interaction requires authenticity. No longer are we living in the “Mad Men” days when marketers and advertisers hid away in tall buildings overlooking their subjects unburdened by the need for truth (all while day drinking). Now we’re in the trenches. If you lie or even bend the truth, chances are you are going to get called out. The public has a sixth sense for deception and your brand is dead in the water if they smell it on you.

Our audiences consist of real people with real issues and they want to be spoken to in a real way about real solutions to their issues. Everything else is noise. Take, for instance, Dove’s newest star in their Real Beauty campaign, the Real Beauty Sketches, a video featuring subjects drawn as they describe themselves, and as others describe them. The difference is both heartbreaking and revealing. The ad features real women and highlights the notion of body image, a sensitive issue that touches most women at their core. The ad’s tagline, “you are more beautiful than you think,” provides women from all walks of life a sense of hope. By displaying something raw and authentic, Dove touched the hearts of many, garnering over 114 million views and becoming the most watched video ad of all time.

Admit When You Make a Mistake

Along the same lines as authenticity, if you are caught in a wrong, just admit it. Denying allegations or fighting accusations just gives your haters additional fodder, while admitting fault and apologizing is usually all that’s needed to send them on to their next bit of drama.

At the conference I also heard from the woman behind the management of the American Red Cross rogue tweet incident. In 2011 a Red Cross employee confused the company account with her personal Twitter handle when she tweeted, “Ryan found two more four-bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer… when we drink we do it right #gettingslizzerd.” Wendy Harman, the director of social strategy at the Red Cross, who spoke at the conference, said her initial reaction was to delete the tweet. But, after some thought she decided to lean into the mistake by admitting fault, while adding some humor. “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys,” she tweeted. Not only did the decision avoid a potential crisis situation, but it actually turned into a large fundraiser for the organization as breweries and bars around the country encouraged monetary and blood donations to the Red Cross with the promise of a free pint in exchange. The humanitarian organization admitted that they were, well, human and made a mistake, delighting audiences who appreciated the honesty – and the laugh.

Be in the Now

For better or worse, the internet has created 24/7 access to brands and companies. Social media feeds our need for instant gratification as we see feedback with the click of a refresh button. On Twitter, consumers expect brands to respond within hours, if not instantly. As brands we have to keep up. Some of the best opportunities happen in real time without the usual approval processes and planning. And, if you don’t jump on them, someone else will.

Oreo-Dunk-in-the-DarkTake Oreo, for example. During the infamous Super Bowl XLVII blackout, the cookie brand made the choice to respond in an instant tweeting the words “Power out? No problem” accompanied by a picture captioned, “You can still dunk in the dark.” Retweeted over 10,000 times within the hour, the tweet was loved by all who respected Oreo’s fast fingers and digital presence. The company, and especially the social media team, was built to allow for fast response, a necessity to remain in real time, where your fans and consumers are.

As Don Draper says in Mad Men, “You want some respect? Go out there and get it for yourself.” If you establish your brand as authentic, honest and current, the respect of your audience will surely come.
Did you attend the recent Vocus Conference? What best practices would you add to the list?

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