A bitter sweet ending for Mad Men but Hershey is happy
Hershey didn’t know that it was to feature at all and told Vanity Fair it was “thrilled and incredibly flattered to be part of such a popular television show”
In last night’s Mad Men (Sky Atlantic), the final episode in the penultimate season, once again the business of advertising elevated the ad man drama out of the ordinary.
When this series – the sixth – kicked off it was 1968, so there was racial tension, Vietnam and sexual politics on the boil, and history looked set to play a big role in the award-winning drama but in the end, it all came down to a pitch for a chocolate bar.
It was a standard agency pitch for new business, headed by creative genius Don Draper (Jon Hamm) whose magic is that he can win over clients for
Sterling Cooper and Partners with a vision of the American dream that he promises to weave into their product like a sprinkling of sugar on mom’s apple pie.
There he stood, alcohol almost visibly seeping out his clammy pores after a season spent drinking, absenting himself either physically or emotionally from work, his marriage and family. It was a convincing show – to start. He understood the brand, he said, because it was part of his happy loving, childhood – classic client flattering stuff.
And then in the scene of the series he had what was coming for the past six years; an emotional, truth-revealing meltdown. He told them they should never advertise – the script borrowing from industry lore as Hershey famously built its brand over 70 years without national advertising, only starting in 1969 when M&M upped the ante.
Draper topped his professional meltdown with a personal one revealing his true experience of Hershey. As a child growing up in a brothel, the prostitutes got him to pickpocket their johns and would reward him with a nickel so he could buy the chocolate bar.
He’s asked to leave the agency – not quite the fall off the building signalled in Mad Men’s famous opening credits but a firm ejection nevertheless. “I want a return date,” says Draper to his partners during the chilly exit interview.
“We can’t give you that.”
Every time series six went down the very dull path of lengthy flashbacks to Don’s childhood, its creator Matt Weiner brought it back from the edge of nostalgic absurdity, largely through credible advertising scenes revealing character traits and plot twists.
So there have been demanding clients testing account executives to the limit – one takes part in a hunting trip to please his clients and is accidentally shot in the eye; clients were fired because a competing brand offered a bigger media spend; budget wrangling; careerist backstabbing, and the problems when two agencies merge – from the vanity of titles to conflicting client rosters. Still grist to the mill in the industry decades later – well maybe not the shooting in the eye.
The episode aired in the US on Sunday – Sky Atlantic is getting ever-better at synchronising air times, an effective strategy to combat illegal downloading – and the fallout has answered some questions about product placement in the series where products are often so key.
Hershey didn’t know that it was to feature at all and told Vanity Fair on Tuesday that while it had been asked for product it had no idea of how, when or if it would be featured and was “thrilled and incredibly flattered to be part of such a popular television show”.
And the brand wasn’t too alarmed about the association with the growing up in a brothel story, saying: “Obviously we know that this is a fictitious television show set in the 1960s.”