We know we’re a few years late to the game, but the Peppermill Projects team has been binge watching Man Men for the past several weeks. Each morning, we come into work and breakdown the episodes and discuss the relevancy to our own world of branding and design. Don Draper, the show’s protagonist, is a Creative Director for various Manhattan advertising agencies throughout the show’s run, which takes place in the 1960s. Don does a lot of things well — womanizing, chain-smoking, day-drinking and best of all: pitching advertising concepts to clients.

Though Don works at an advertising agency that specializes in print, television and radio ads, it can be argued that his work is an embodiment of modern day branding. Don and his creative team do more than just churn out print ads and 30-second television spots. They specialize in the art of storytelling and work with clients to create a brand story that resonates with consumers.

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Don Draper spends many sleepless nights crafting campaigns and brand experiences that speak directly to the client’s target audience. To learn more about the values, needs and desires of consumers, Don often hosts focus groups, tests the products, has conversations with strangers and many times pulls from his own life experiences. That information gathered helps him learn about the brand to create authentic campaigns that speak to consumers.

One memorable pitch in the series takes place in season one. Don pitches a campaign idea to Kodak for their new slide projector. Kodak’s executives even admit — it’s not that exciting of a product. In fact, Kodak names it “The Wheel,” which they believe lacks imagination and creativity, despite the wheel being the original form of technology. So, Don’s creative team renames it “The Carousel” and creates one heck of a story to go along with it.

During his pitch, Don explains how branding is not just about the product itself, rather how the product or brand makes people feel. He sees the Kodak projector as a time machine, allowing consumers to feel nostalgic. During his presentation, he slides through his own family memories:

“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.”

The Carousel story is brilliant in more ways than one. By telling a story that resonates with everyone in the room (including viewers watching the show), Don created an emotional reaction and bond to the brand. Instead of telling you what the product does, he made that emotional connection with the audience making them see why this product is valuable to their lives. 

To turn your business or product into a successful brand, you need to ask yourself (and fully understand) why a consumer should buy your product or service. What makes it unique? How is it bettering the lives of your consumers? In less than 3 minutes, Don answered those questions with a brand story that sticks.

As consumers, we relate to brands more positively when their story is inspirational. It’s undoubtable that Kodak’s goal was to sell a new product to make more money. But that’s uninspiring for consumers — they don’t want to buy your products because it makes you rich. They want to invest in your brand because of the experience you provide. Your brand must sell the unique story that answers the why, not the what.