The Mad Men series finale will air Sunday night and it brings to a close a TV series that takes as its main theme an idea that’s close to this brand strategist’s heart.
The show has been about many things: Marriage, parenthood, aging and morality, among other topics. But the single theme running through it started right at the beginning when we learned that Don Draper is not who he says he is. Instead, he took on the cloak of someone else’s identity, thinking he could live a new life.
In a way, he was right (he became rich because of it) and he was one of several characters who strove for an aspirational vision of their own personal identity. Pete Campbell, at least for the first few seasons, wanted to be like Don. Peggy wanted to be the creative, with-it girl who could be respected. Joan wanted to be seen as an assertive woman who was noticed for things beyond her looks. And so on.
In each case, there’s a yearning for an aspirational identity that would describe who they believe they are (or want to be).
What Mad Men says about branding.
It’s the same thing with brand. I’ve have preached this ad nauseam, but the fundamental truth of brand is that the best ones are the aspirational reflection of who the target audience wants to be. When you wear Nikes, you are the person who just does it without all the fuss. When you buy an Apple product, you are the person who thinks differently.
But the reason I shout this outside-in approach so often is because so few brands really get it. Most brands are about product benefits or some of other feature of the brand itself. It’s rarely about the customer. Instead, themes are often, “We are here for you.” That’s not about the target audience. That’s about what the brand does, not who the customers are when they use the brand.
Somehow, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner understands this because the series’ journey has been about finding those identities with varied success. He understands that the yearning for self-identity is the most powerful motivator in human behavior.
We buy the brands that identify ourselves. In that respect, I buy Mad Men because it satisfies my perceived identity of myself: A brand man.