Article first published as Mad Men: Collaborators, Conspirators, and Consternation on Blogcritics.
Even by Mad Men standards, “Collaborators” is a dark and depressing episode. In addition to the usual menu of infidelities, betrayals, and marriage implosions there is a miscarriage, wife battering and a sobering reminder of Joan’s prostituting herself for a partnership. The radio and TV background noise is equally as grim with coverage of the current political and social tensions and stories about the Pueblo incident in North Korea and the Viet Nam War’s Tet Offensive. All of this is capped off by Don’s collapsing outside his apartment door in a state of unhappiness and distress. For the moment, at least, the weight of his betrayals, stolen identity, deceptions, and dark childhood memories has brought Don to his knees. We can be sure, however, that Don will be standing tall in the morning and ready for his next try at happiness. The only thing missing in this mix of personal unhappiness and distress is Betty’s gaining another twenty pounds and taking up residence in the East Village.
On the business front the atmospheres and events at both SCDP and CGC aren’t much brighter. Don clashes with Pete and Ken over ethics, loyalties, and caving in to client demands. Peggy’s honeymoon at CGC seems to be fading as she struggles with lack of respect from her subordinates and her inability to motivate the creatives. Peggy’s secretary is very direct about it, but the creative teams deliver their message in the form of a bottle of “Quest” a new feminine hygiene powder that Peggy mistakenly thinks is a new client. She brings it to Ted, who tells her that it is somebody’s idea of a joke. I love Peggy’s response. “Of course, when you want them to be funny, they’re useless.” Peggy is also faced with another dilemma when her loyalties to friends at SCDP clash with allegiances and responsibilities at her new agency. No new business wins, client triumphs, or creative breakthroughs to celebrate in this episode.
A Bumpy Ride In A Jaguar
Jaguar is still an SCDP client and Herb Rennet, the Jaguar dealer representative, returns to remind everyone what a lousy client he really is and literally drives Joan to drink in Don’s office. In addition to propositioning Joan and ogling the female staff, the purpose of Herb’s visit is to pressure the agency into recommending to the Jaguar corporate team that Jaguar shift a significant portion of its media budget from image building television to price oriented, traffic building radio commercials. Pete, of course, is all too eager to please while Don pushes back and balks at the idea. After Herb leaves, an agitated Don forcefully reminds Pete that the primary reason they took the Jaguar account was to do powerful image driven creative work that would “put SCDP on the map” in the car business and open the door to bigger and better opportunities
This scenario reflects some of the political and business dynamics of automotive accounts in the Mad Men days. An agency handling an automotive client very often serves two masters. Both the corporate owners of the business (the ”factory”) and the dealerships (the “move the metal” guys) play a role. While they are aligned and codependent, an inherent tension exists when it comes to advertising. The “factory” is, of course, concerned with retail sales but they are primarily responsible for building the brand image and establishing the longer-term value of the marque with the right target audience nationally. The factory also allocates funds to supplement the local advertising dollars of the dealers. The dealers operate in a very competitive local retail environment and are concerned about sales at their dealerships. The primary drivers of dealer traffic are usually pricing, deals, and incentives. SCDP is caught in the middle of this tension and Don takes the high road for both the Jaguar brand and the agency. In the subsequent meeting with the Jaguar clients Pete dutifully plays the role of shill for Herb and delivers the agency’s recommendation to reallocate funds to retail radio. The client is skeptical and asks Don what he thinks. Don’s cunning response is a brilliantly delivered masterpiece of “support” for the recommendation that hoists Herb on his own petard and leads the client to the inescapable conclusion that they should stick with the existing plan. Even Herb is taken in and he chides Pete for letting Don speak up because “We all know Don is a lousy salesman.” Classic Don Draper deception. Roger sums it all up to Don this way. “That was the deftest self-immolation I’ve ever seen.”
Dance With The One That Brung You
SCDP has been handling Heinz Baked Beans and other smaller brands in that division since the inception of the agency. Ray Geiger, the division head, took a chance on SCDP in its early days and there is a very understandable sense of loyalty to him among the partners, especially Don. The agency’s work has been paying off for Ray with increased sales. When Ray brings his Heinz Ketchup counterpart, Timmy, to the agency for a get acquainted visit the excitement of a potential big piece of new business permeates the agency. Timmy indicates that he’s happy with his current agency, DDB, and not officially looking to change. Timmy is impressed with what SCDP has done for Ray’s business and says he’s open to being “impressed” by what SCDP could do for ketchup. This is the type of opportunity agencies lust for. Having an inside track on a taking a big visible brand from a well-known creative agency without a multi agency competitive pitch. Priceless!
After Timmy leaves, the excitement quickly dissipates when Ray emphatically tells Don and Ken that they cannot pursue the account. He states that this was a “courtesy meeting” and cautions that if SCDP does any speculative thinking for ketchup the agency will be fired from his business. Ray is an insecure, old guard Heinz manager enjoying success and he resents Timmy and the hotshot generation coming up behind him. SCDP is “his” agency and his alone. Ken is ready to cast Ray aside and tells Don they need to look to the future rather than the past. He describes Heinz Ketchup as the “Coca-Cola of condiments” and an opportunity too big to pass up. Don reminds Ken that Ray brought his business to the agency when we were “barely standing.” Don is adamant and ends the conversation with the Don Draper loyalty credo. “Sometimes you gotta dance with the one that brung you.” This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this side of Don. He expressed a similar point of view when he refused to cast aside Mohawk Airlines for the possibility of landing the much bigger American Airlines account.
Agencies are always faced with the opportunity to trade-up to bigger accounts. It’s a natural part of the business and one agency’s loss is another’s gain. The type of agency loyalty that Don espouses and client’s like Ray protecting and being protective of their agencies existed in those days. It could be a double-edged sword, but in general agency-client relationships were much deeper and lasted longer. This has changed dramatically. Today’s Mad Men exist in an environment of more fragile relationships, with shorter life spans, working with client Chief Marketing Officers whose average job tenure is 23 months. Don Draper would be stunned.
Loose Lips Sink Relationships
On one of Stan’s regular calls with Peggy he tells her about the Heinz meeting, its outcome, and the differences of opinion between Ken and Don. Peggy was the lead creative on the Heinz account at SCDP so it really hits home for her. When Ted Chaough walks in on the call, Peggy hangs up and casually relates the Heinz story to him as part of their conversation. Peggy thinks nothing of it until Ted shows up in her office with a background brief on Heinz Ketchup and tells Peggy to get work on it. Peggy’s immediate reaction is to resist and she tells Ted that she shouldn’t have share confidential information about an SCDP client. Ted respects Peggy’s feelings but tells her to put her past agency behind her and go all out for CGC. Ted tells her that the Heinz Ketchup story will be all over Madison Avenue soon and every agency will be knocking on their door. This is their opportunity to get a leg up. He reminds Peggy that it is her creative campaign that is driving SCDP’s Heinz business and that she can impress the client again at her new agency. This is how wars are won,” Ted says. “Your friend’s mistake was underestimating you.”
Ted is dead right. Smart aggressive agency managers use all the inside information available to them and make the most it. Ted is not doing anything unethical and hopefully Peggy will see it that way, get on board, and manage any fallout with Stan.
In actuality, Heinz Ketchup was a DDB client in 1968 but they were not in trouble on the business. In 1964, Heinz moved its account out of Maxon advertising and assigned its business to three agencies…DDB, Grey, and Ketchum MacLeod & Grove. DDB produced some memorable, effective advertising campaigns built around the brand’s thickness using a side-by-side napkin test to demonstrate that Heinz Ketchup was so thick and rich it didn’t run like other brands. When I arrived at DDB in 1970 Heinz Ketchup was still a showcase account for the agency and DDB had created the line “The Slowest Ketchup In The West.” In 1974 Heinz eventually moved the business out of DDB to Leo Burnett in Chicago and that agency produced the iconic “Anticipation” campaign using the great Carly Simon song of the same name.
“Collaborators” left us spinning with relationships teetering and business paths colliding. Round and round things go, where they stop nobody knows…except Mr. Weiner.