The Demise of Ad Men

I recently jumped on the Mad Men bandwagon. That Jon Hamm sure is handsome, and boy oh boy, did they smoke a lot. There's plenty to gawk at--and cringe at--on that show. The sexism. The debauchery. All those pregnant ladies hitting the bottle and smoking up a storm.

As I watch--floating somewhere between awe and disgust--the goings-on of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce have got me pondering the modern business of advertising. By the time I was born, Don Draper would have been retired and too old to womanize, but the advertising biz was still in full swing.

I keep thinking about the "Where's the Beef?" lady, Madge hawking her dish soap, and Bartles and Jaymes sitting on their rockers selling wine coolers. Just the other day, I had to explain those old Grey Poupon commercials with the Rolls-Royce to my (much) younger brother.

Lately, I've been enjoying the Allstate "Mayhem" commercials with Dean Winters. You know the ones I'm talking about, where a slightly deranged looking individual wreaks havoc on property owners. The one where he's a raccoon tearing into an attic makes me laugh every time--and then it makes me wonder what's happening in my attic. Last winter, as the snow fell in Connecticut and piled up on my roof, Allstate aired a commercial about a garage collapse, and I started worrying about my own roof and whether mayhem would come crashing through it at any moment. But you'll notice I haven't mentioned changing my insurance carrier.

I appreciate a good advertisement, but I can't think of a single time one has convinced me to run out and buy anything--unless it had a coupon attached. No, I always go for a good deal. A quick look at my inbox is all you need to be convinced that I am a bargain hunter: offers from Travelzoo; 20% off of Ann Taylor; free shipping from Cost Plus World Market; double cash back from Ebates. And you better believe there are plenty of offers from Groupon and LivingSocial in my email.

When it comes to commercials, I am an advertiser's nightmare. But if you've got a sale or a coupon, I am your girl. If I like your brand, I'm happy to follow it on Facebook and get whatever deal it is you want to offer me.

Still, as advertising moves further away from the days of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, I can't help but lament the loss of something. Social media marketing is great for people like me, but I wonder what will take the place of those iconic brand-building commercials?

I've got a theory, and I imagine you're already seeing it play out at your water cooler--or on Twitter. Instead of Super Bowl commercials, we'll all be talking about the hot new viral videos in years to come. Heck, we all ready are!

Remember that YouTube video with robotic-voiced cartoon characters where one was looking for an iPhone and the other was desperately--and rather profanely--trying to convince her that an HTC EVO was a better choice? The salesperson extolled the virtues of the bigger screen, and the buyer asked, "Is it an iPhone?" The salesperson said that no, it wasn't, and the buyer said, "Then I don't care."

The video was a home run on every level. It was hilarious and got into my consciousness. (I still can't say the words "I don't care" without thinking about it.) It got great buzz and made even the most devoted iPhone users wonder if their brand allegiance wasn't a bit silly. It was such a hit that GEICO started using the same free animation tool to produce some of its television spots.

But while I ran around sharing the YouTube video with everyone I thought would be interested, I never once pointed anyone to the GEICO commercial. The traditional advertising guys--the ones in the skyscrapers on Madison Avenue--are playing catch-up with their audience. Sure, sometimes you get a wink and nod that says, "Look we're paying attention." But from Amazon reviews to Groupon, the ad men are losing ground.

Let's face it; we're already looking back on the golden days of advertising with nostalgia--just ask the guy responsible for dusting all the awards in the Mad Men office.