the glittering lure of technology and Don Draper


We could all learn a thing or two from Donald Draper.

And by that I don't mean how to look good in a suit while drinking scotch, womanizing, or stealing another man's identity. Nor do I mean to infer that we should also learn a thing of two from the actor playing Don Draper, that being how to be devilishly handsome, grow a five o'clock beard, or be cast to play characters who are so beautiful that they live in a bubble and nothing bad can ever happen to them (but that wouldn't be so a bad lesson to learn). No, it's much simpler than that. We could all learn how to sell an idea like Don Draper.

I started watching MadMen at the end of the first season. I had been reading good reviews of the show, but not having cable I didn't check it out until I was able to download the full season. Like so many others, I was drawn in by the impressive attention to detail in the set and costumes, but also by the nuanced characterization and excellent narrative. The final episode stuck with me long after I watched it, particularly this scene (I'd embed the clip but that functionality has been disabled... curses AMC) which I used as part of a school presentation about advertising and myth a few months later.

In the scene, Don Draper pitches the concept of the 'Carousel' for an updated slide projector to the folks at Kodak. When representatives from Kodak express their concern about how to advertise yet another projector with the same basic technology, Don responds, " is a glittering lure, but there's the rare occasion when the public can be engaged at a level beyond flash, when they have a sentimental bond with the product."

I still have a copy of the presentation where I referenced this scene. This was the basic introduction I wrote.

Each day we are bombarded with ads, each trying to sell us something. We are constantly persuaded to buy something, be it a physical object or an idea. Ads appeal to our senses, we are attracted visually, emotionally, or intellectually.

Often, the most successful ads are the ones that allow us to experience connection on all of these levels. Not only are we appealed to aesthetically, but we also develop some sort of intangible relationship with the product. In some cases this bond we form is obvious, we buy into the platform of a political party and give them our vote. At other times this bond is less apparent, however no less powerful.
In my particular role as a very civil servant supporting communications, I suppose in a way I'm in the business of trying to get people to buy into ideas (and I use the terms buy and sell in a very loose fashion). Sometimes these are ideas that have been put forward by the general public, other times they are the directive of council, other times they are the recommendations from various branches of the municipal government. We present these ideas in a variety of ways - through face to face conversations, traditional media, online media - all with varying levels of effectiveness. Success comes when the ideas we share resonate with the individual. They care about the "product" and buy into the idea through their participation. For example, if a city wants to shift to more sustainable transportation modes, they might put up billboards, place ads, hold public information meetings informing people on the types of services the city provides to help the public to achieve that goal. When someone buys into that idea of increasing sustainable transportation they might drive less, walk more, ride a bicycle or take transit, all because something resonated with them, be it the desire to save money, a wish to contribute less to global warming, or the services provided just happen to be more convenient than the whatever they were using before.

Although I'm keenly interested on the outcomes of an idea, I'm also focused on how we share ideas. Sometimes I feel like I'm a between a rock and a hard place, pushing online communication tools while at the same time saying what is most important is the message we share. But the the tool and message are intrinsically linked in my world (flashes of Marshall McLuhan here), and when we are encouraging people to use new tools it can be hard not to be caught up in all of the technological glitter.

But then I see ads like this recent one from Google...

I marvel at the effectiveness of this ad. In fifty-two seconds it manages to showcase all of these things that people might use the Google search engine for - and it does so in a simple yet striking narrative. What's also amazing is the tool they use to tell the story is also what they are trying to promote.

But without getting too complex in my analysis of tools promoting themselves, instead I want to focus on what I find most brilliant about the Google ad and Don Draper's Carousel pitch. Both rely heavily on a narrative - telling a story that resonates with an audience, so much so that they will want to use that product.

At work I have my own product that I'm trying to pitch... which is to use the various social media channels to share information about the City's programs and projects. But the use of these tools are inherent with their own complexities - How do we keep things simple for residents to find information? When do the lines blur between personal and professional networks? When do we use informal channels and when do we use official ones? What sort of content do we share? What tool is right for what purpose?

moving from concept to reality

And so I endeavour to try to help answer these questions, not just through policy documents but also through presentations that provide a succinct overview of these complex issues as well as encourage people to buy into the idea of these new tools. I would like to see more people sharing stories of their projects on the City blog, more groups excited about the establishing subtle connections between people and programs through the sharing of photos and videos, more opportunity to see day-to-day activity in the City about how we're working towards our strategic goals.

moving from concept to reality

And to accomplish all this I'm try to tell a little story about my project. I'm trying to establish a narrative. I'm hoping to establish context about what it means for an employee to be contributing to online commentary both in their personal and professional capacities.

moving from concept to reality

I hope to end up at a point where the technology is invisible. Instead of being excited about the tools, instead we will concentrate on what is being said. What will matter is not that the City has a blog, but rather that you learned about fifteen different community groups who are leading projects in their neighbourhoods to start local gardens, hold celebrations to celebrate the diversity and talent of their neighbours, or work together to renovate a heritage building to turn into a multi-purpose community centre for meetings, art or dance classes, etc, etc etc. What will matter is not the City has a facebook account, but that you might find out about an important public meeting that is coming up and you could RSVP there and share that information with your entire network of friends. What will matter is not the City has a Flickr or YouTube account, but that you might discover information about programs that you were unaware of, you might use those photos or videos in your own presentations, emailing to friends who were unable to attend an event. What will come out of this is that narrative I'm so fond of. The story of our city, created by our collective contributions.

Surely the tool is important, but it should be more of the silent partner in our conversations.


  1. Awesome post! I am a believer in the power of a story and using narrative to help convey a message. Even if that is a business message!

  2. Thanks!

    I was just talking to my gentleman caller this morning about how stories are an extremely effective tool to convey a message, whether it's for government, education or business.

    Chalk it up to my editorial inclinations, but I'm hoping to see more and more stories on the City blog that start to show the change that is happening in the City, rather than just tell people about the program and services that are available to help with that change.

    It's all about subtle links.