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What Would Donald Draper Do?
Imagining classical music through the lens of Mad Men.

by Holly Mulcahy
November 2, 2009

One of the most popular shows on cable television lately is Mad Men, on the AMC channel. Now on its third season, the show has captivated imaginations, history buffs, and is even starting to have an effect on current fashion. But what has me most interested in the show is the style in which the 1960's Madison Avenue advertising agency works with various challenging clients. From Hilton Hotels to Marlboro, and Playtex to Kodak; each client needing something special and different.

Of course, I couldn't help but fantasize what the star of the show, Donald Draper, could do to improve ticket sales for any given orchestra. And that brings the question: What Would Draper Do? How would this ad man (or more accurate, his writers) create a burning desire for anyone to go to a symphony concert? And how does one market something in which you cannot hold or take home?

I have to imagine that if Donald Draper was given the XYZ Symphony account, the result would be something similar to what he probably come up with from Season One, Episode 13, "The Wheel".

In that episode, Eastman Kodak has approached the advertising firm at Madison Avenue with their newest product, "The Wheel," a picture projector that never jams. Donald Draper skillfully takes the Kodak people down a path they didn't expect and creates a whole new approach for this product. Donald starts with this (video clip):

"Technology is a glittering lure but there's a rare occasion where a public can be engaged beyond flash…This old pro, a copywriter, a Greek named Teddy, told me the most important thing in advertising is "new". It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. He also talked about a deeper bond with a product: nostalgia. It's Delicate, but potent."

Each time I see classical music marketing campaigns in various towns, I wonder about their effectiveness. Are billboards enough, are the radio spots effective, are the TV commercials hitting the right audience? So often the halls aren't filled to a desired proportion. That is probably why the show Mad Men is so appealing: it shows hard-to-market clients receiving creative and effective advertising campaigns, all wrapped up in less than 60 minutes.

Granted, that's not how real life works but I can't help wondering what the classical music business would look like if a non-fiction version of Donald Draper could do his thing.

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