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.
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.