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Meet the company making Don Draper look amateur

Advertising revolution Advertising revolution
Photo credit:

Eric Almendral

The end of Mad Men is more than just the end of a TV show, it waves farewell to the ‘Golden era’ of advertising for good. What’s around the corner though will change everything.

May 17th 2015 saw the airing of the much anticipated finale of Mad Men. There’ll be no spoilers in this article, but what can be taken from its finishing is significant for one key reason.

It signifies the end of an era. A period in history which signaled an advertising revolution.

Known as the ‘golden era’, it can be characterized by a shift from providing information about novel products, towards peddling them based on the innate qualities that were instilled by ad men.

And for 7 glorious seasons that’s what we saw.

We were plunged into the fictional world of Don Draper, watching with awe as the visionary Madison Avenue executive cast a spell over clients through a relentless devotion to consumer psychology and brand perception.

The era depicted in Mad Men, the 1960’s, proved to be a pivotal point and a contributor to a new advertising revolution, with ad men just like Draper showing the sheer power that brands possessed.

The protagonist showed us how brands could become more than just a company’s identity, rather, that brands could become the stimuli that clouded rationale at the point of purchase.

The psychology behind this new advertising revolution is documented by the legendary academic Sut Jhally, who described this era of advertising as the point that brands began to represent the embodiment of a set of ideals and a new way of life.

A new post-war way of life that was characterized by differentiation, brands suddenly became adjectival of a person, like someone choosing Pepsi over Coca-Cola. And it is for that reason that brands no longer sold products, but instead, the feelings and emotions that were attached to those products.

Advertisers were effectively handed a blank canvas to do with as they wished, and it led to some of the most famous campaigns of all time. Those Volkswagen ads, known for their timeless copy such as ‘Lemon’ and ‘Think small’. These ads and others like it represented creativity in its purest form.


Mad Men signals the end of the reincarnation of the golden era of advertising, which for a few short years reminded the advertising industry exactly where they came from.

The saddening thing about Mad Men ending, stretches further than just the end of a great television series. It’s something characteristic of the industry as a whole.

That is, that things are forgotten very quickly.

As is attested to by Sir John Hegarty, who said in Andrew Cracknell’s ‘Real Mad Men’:

“The word ‘history’ in our industry is almost a dirty word. We’re obsessed with tomorrow and the next big thing. In many ways that’s what’s so exciting. Constant invention at its core. Creativity is, after all, about breaking something down and putting something new in place.”

Hegarty is right. The golden age of advertising, in spite of its endearing allure was full of flaws. Namely, that the word research wasn’t exactly on the tip of everyone’s tongue at Madison Avenue.

A lot of it was guesswork. Trial and error.

The new advertising revolution

Such an approach wouldn’t exactly float today, Draper’s antics wouldn’t have stretched past the first season in today’s cutthroat ecosystem. Particularly with the increasing emphasis on accountability and ensuring ROI on every penny spent.

As such, a whole host of platforms have emerged in recent years that claim to aid this scientifically grounded advertising revolution.

One such platform is Relative Insight.

Its CEO, Ben Hookway, plans to spearhead the advertising revolution, and to kick Don Draper off the throne in a wholly more geeky way.

“We do advanced language analytics” says Hookway, whose project began at Lancaster University around a decade ago.

“This project actually started as a security project. And we do, do law enforcement and security work…we do a lot in child protection. In an online forum, we can tell the difference between a 13 year old girl and a 30 year old man doing a very sophisticated impression. We can do this kind of thing, because we are extremely good at comparing two sets of language…understanding what is subtly, but significantly different between the two language sets”

But how is stopping elusive criminals linked with advertising you ask?

It wasn’t until Hookway had a series of coincidental meetings with various advertising agencies, that he began to see the bigger picture, that Relative Insight unquestionably had the potential to become part of an advertising revolution that agencies were looking for.

“Marketing is based on imagery and language. And it became apparent to us…that a lot of ad agencies and marketers were using word clouds…it showed to us that there was an incredibly limited exposure of treating language as a data source”

Agencies agree, not just small ones though. Big ones.

The likes of Saatchi & Saatchi, Ogilvy and Havas Worldwide- all of whom are providing the traction and credibility to really ensure that Relative Insight’s somewhat disruptive technology is gaining traction.

Relative Insight forms part of the new advertising revolution, and is more than just novelty. It signifies a new era for marketers and advertisers, one which provides unparalleled accuracy and efficiency into an incredibly competitive industry, previously dominated by guess work.

Step aside Don Draper, your time is up.


Image credit: Steven Verbruggen