Mad Men new season – dramatizing the creative process

In the first episode of Man Men series 6 there’s an interesting examination of the creative process intertwined in the lives of the advertising agency characters. Early in the episode Don returns rejuvenated from a luxury winter break in Hawaii with Megan, paid for by his client Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Yet later in the episode when it comes to creating the next advertising campaign for the hotel, he allows his own emotions, his own inner inferno, to get in the way of finding a great creative solution.

Don’s past and present confusion gets in the way of the client’s brand so he fails to execute one of his killer presentations, much to the annoyance of Pete Campbell and Roger Sterling. His creative approach and his stapline ‘Hawaii – the jumping off point’ are so clouded by his own emotions that the voice of the brand and the brief itself is lost, and the great Madison Avenue Creative Director is all too visibly cast adrift in front of his disappointed client.

Don’s confusion is later contrasted with Peggy – now a senior copywriter at a rival agency of course – who is forced to come up with a new creative solution for a Koss headphones Superbowl spot, when the client gets nervous and wants to pull the advert at the last minute.

In contrast to Don, Peggy – who of course has learned so much from the master – is forced to work hard to find a stronger feature about the product that better dramatizes the brand. How does she find the solution? Not by looking within but by allowing the outside world to inspire her creative juices. The implication is that Peggy has grown to be a better creative by getting out of her own way and taking her creative thinking to a higher level.

There may be a lesson here for all designers and advertising creatives. Great work is not about you. It comes from finding out great things about your client’s business, or product, and getting out of the way to allow the truth to shine through to the users and the audience.

That’s not to say that there’s no room for personality in design and advertising. In fact personality is essential. It’s in the treatment – how you choose to use your skills to express the tone-of-voice of the brand. It’s the words you choose and the typeface that you use. It’s the colour, the definition and the character that you bring to the end result and what gives depth to the final work.

In many ways the creative process must be much the same as the scriptwriting process. With Dante’s Inferno echoing in your head, you may have trouble allowing long-established characters to find their true voice.

It’s this level of approach that makes the Mad Men new season something more than just another TV series. The writers know when to get out of the way and let the ideas and the characters speak for themselves.

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