Everyone’s favorite TV show Mad Men is hardly watched by anyone. Its debut in 2007 counted an average audience of 925,000 viewers. For its fourth-season premiere 2.9 million viewers tuned in. For network television these figures are small – consider CBS’s NCIS, which has an average audience of 17.3 million.
What is interesting is that Mad Men is used to sell everything from clothing at Banana Republic to a seat on Delta airlines. The show has promoted Jack Daniel’s whiskey and Jon Hamm’s voice talks up Mercedes in TV commercials. Janie Bryant, Mad Men’s costume designer, has a clothing and accessories collection Mod by Janie Bryant sold on QVC (debuts September 29). Bryant also has a nail polish range for Nailtini available in the fall from CVS and Duane Reade; plus she’s just been appointed as spokesperson for Maidenform intimate apparel.
But why is Mad Men being used to sell us stuff when no one is watching? Is anyone really dressing like Joan, Peggy or Betty? Certainly the latest Louis Vuitton campaign with Karen Elson as a Joanie doppelganger would suggest luxury fashion has taken notice. The rest of us will be able to get our mid-century fix on QVC in the fall, or on ModCloth, the vintage-inspired online retailer that just picked up $19.8 million in funding.
Elizabeth Talerman, CEO of New York branding agency Nucleus is a Mad Men fan. She has, at times, had trouble finding AMC on her dial. “I mean, who goes to AMC to see a show?” But she sees Mad Men everywhere. “Either Mad Men is grooving on pop culture or pop culture is grooving on Mad Men.”
This summer Mad Men actors Jon Hamm, January Jones, Christina Hendricks and John Slattery have appeared on countless magazine covers and articles. And over four seasons the show has won four Golden Globes and scooped 38 awards including a handful of Emmys, BAFTAs and Director Guild Awards.
“I absolutely believe there is nothing like Mad Men and when there is nothing else like it; when something stands for something quite specific and quite fresh, it’s a great place for a marketer to be,” says Talerman. “That said; a brand has to be clearly defined. It can’t just attach itself to something good and hope to gain something.”
Like say Delta. “What does an airline have to do with Mad Men? The characters don’t fly around that much. Delta can’t fix whatever its brand definition issues are by pinning itself to a show to get cool rub off. That’s trying to buy a consumer’s affection and attention, as opposed to being naturally intriguing, desirable and provocative. We’re all consumers and we’re smart. We can filter out what doesn’t make sense.”
What does make sense to Talerman is Maidenform and Mad Men. “Brilliant! I absolutely love the tongue-in-cheek relationship between Maidenform and the show. It’s serious but it’s playful.”
As for mass-retailer Banana Republic, Talerman is not concerned by the show’s limited TV audience. “My feeling is that the sponsorship value [for Banana Republic] is in how that plays out at point of sale, to the way the store is experienced, to the way the fitting rooms feel. The advantage of this partnership is on the way to the store, outdoor media and print. The television [viewership] is the minority part of this. But the partnership makes sense.”