Distilling Success From Don’s Club

It’s Sunday evening; millions fervently await another ‘Mad Men’ episode. The last ended in a battle- literally. ‘Breaking Bad’ is arguably a better quality show, and ‘Modern Family’ is more important, but 1966-era Mad Men has style, earning accolades for depicting then-stylish spending. The show’s characters’ choices are scrutinized by viewers, as these choices convey “I can afford anything, but this is what I choose”.

The show’s lead, Don Draper, drinks Canadian Club- and plenty of it. He’s handsome, risk-taking, very successful with the ladies. He’s loyal to Canadian Club (C.C.);  that gives a previously tired brand a chance at rejuvenation. Beam, who has owned the brand but a few short years, has a fine opportunity on its hands.

This was not a case of paid product placement; the show’s writers assigned Don his drink of preference. They did ask Beam for some mockup bottles in 1966-era labels (Beam happily obliged). What Beam has done on their own, is now launch nostalgia-themed print ads combining 1966 fashion imagery & ‘Man-virtues’ and 2012 irreverence:

  • “Your Mom Wasn’t Your Dad’s First”
  • “Your Dad Was Not A Metrosexual”


Another whiskey, Wisers got out in front of C.C. several years ago with retro-look “Man’s Man” imagery, with a brilliant ‘Wiserhood’ campaign (“Welcome to the society of uncompromising men”).



While Wisers invested in this ‘Wiserhood’ retro campaign, C.C.’s backers had been content to let C.C. become a ubiquitous ‘bar brand’ in Canada – the unnamed whiskey served those who don’t ask for any brand by name. In other words, C.C. had become a non-brand ie no personality at all. Viewers’ madness for Mad Men now opens a swingin’ new door, and Canadian Club has Don the ad guy on their side.

Where the Wisers campaign is intentionally poised & restrained, as befitting a less risque brand character, the new C.C. campaign gambles on making C.C. a ‘bad boy’ whiskey. The way that Don Draper’s role is written, lovely women everywhere realize that he’s married & behaving badly, but he’s just so dang sexy that they throw themselves at him anyway.

Is there a risk C.C. may go from non-brand to fad-brand? Be tainted by Don’s misogyny or other 1966 habits/bias? Yes, but Beam seems to be betting that a Don Draper bad-boy affiliation can sell a lot of whiskey until that the light in the tunnel is seen to be that of an oncoming train.

If I were Beam, I’d consider the limitations of too-closely linking C.C. to Don Draper-ish values & imagery. Still, the public’s attention span is short- and right here, right now, Beam can Run With Don and distill some real success.

Steven Litt

P.S. If you haven’t seen Mad Men, see it! Mad Men’s appeal isn’t the fashion-gazing opportunities of a single episode [much 1960's fashion is woeful- plaid jackets, stubby ties, orange furniture- yuck!] but the story arc. Not the over-the-top appetites of men without restraint, but knowing the Ivy League WASPish NYC Men’s Club elitists have no idea what’s about to hit them. They & their coddled clients will soon face their first-ever serious international competitors eg Japanese electronics, European/Asian cars, etc. And career opportunities will be lost to -aghast!- women & minorities! These overage Frat Boys are unaware of their impending doom.