As promised, I’m going to begin featuring some of my favorite Mad Men scenes in which Don Draper practices exquisite creative communication. Today’s episode: Lucky Strike.

One of the most thrilling parts of my job is pitching our creative ideas to clients, whether it’s when we’re trying to win new business or during the actual development of a project. In either case, several creative communication challenges arise:

1. Getting the client to understand our ideas
2. Inspiring the client to give us productive feedback on our ideas
3. Convincing the client that our ideas are good

The first two cases are simply a matter of good two-way communication: every one of our presentations is a conversation between the creative team and the client, and our ideas can and should be shaped by that conversation.

But the third challenge kind of flies in the face of the first two. It’s a sales process, where we need to stand tall and back our ideas with confidence, selling the ideas, convincing the client that our idea is correct — sometimes even if the client’s feedback pokes a few holes in our concept. Of course the best way to keep a client happy is to simply have great ideas and great follow-through on those ideas. But without confidence in your ideas, you’re risking preventing great ideas from succeeding.

All creative people question their ideas — If I thought about it more, would I come up with something better? Has this idea been thought of before? Am I totally off base? But if you can’t stand up for your own ideas, then those ideas wont be given a chance to develop and get better. Ideas are like living things, weak when born but growing stronger as they overcome challenges, learning from failures and mistakes. Without confidence to drive it along and protect it, a perfectly good idea might be nipped in the bud before it becomes truly great.

Lucky Strike

This clip exemplifies all of these challenges. A little background: Don Draper, in typical Mad Men fashion, has been, shall we say, distracted from work and has arrived at this pitch meeting completely unprepared (I don’t advocate this, but hey, that’s Don Draper). The client is the maker of Lucky Strike cigarettes.

The year is 1960, and America is just starting to learn that cigarettes are actually dangerous to your health. Many people forget that cigarettes used to be marketed as great for your health, helping you stay slim, fighting infection, and all other manner of ludicrous medical claims.

First, let me say that I love watching the dramatics of Sterling Cooper’s pitch meetings, which happen in almost every other episode of Mad Men. As it is with Behavior‘s pitches, the Mad Men agency team has a functional dynamic — one person focuses on the company’s credentials, handing off the creative proposal to another. Unlike at Behavior, however, Sterling Cooper’s creative team is embroiled in a cutthroat competition as Don Draper and the young Pete Campbell. I suppose that’s life at a large agency.

In this pitch, the client is given a chance to explain their situation to the agency first. Don Draper listens intently, but when he steps up to bat he immediately strikes out. Okay, so far Draper’s lack of professionalism here is unforgivable. Pete Campbell has a backup idea. But his idea is even worse, and doesn’t take into account the client’s profound belief that cigarettes are wholesome.

Draper, however, has been mulling over his client’s concerns. His initial thinking, when he finally unleashes it, is inspired completely from what his clients told him about their product — that they are really no different from their competitors. But that’s just the start. He immediately engages the client in a conversation about his concept, looking for something meaningful to latch on to, to complete his idea.

After a rapid brainstorming exercise with the client, the idea crystallizes: It’s Toasted!

Then, critically, Draper stands behind this idea 100%. He’s even willing to argue with the client over the idea. “They’re all toasted,” says the client. Draper’s argument makes no logical sense. But he believes in it, and will argue passionately for it, because the idea is a quintessential Don Draper idea, one based on emotion instead of logic. He has transferred the conversation from one about medical health to one about happiness and assurance.

Hopefully I’ll be able to keep these copyrighted — but used here under journalistic fair-use — videos posted here. And please stay tuned for more!


4 responses to “The Wisdom of Don Draper, Part 2: It’s Toasted!”

  1. Great Blog!

    My only concern is that it seems as if the idea happened at the table. Smacks of a lack of preparation.

    I do like the link to emotions though. Backs up what Kevin Roberts is saying with his Love Marks concept.


  2. @Rob Hook: I am fairly sure it was completely off-the-cuff. And it’s inexcusable unprofessional behavior. But once he woke up from his stupor he nailed it.

  3. Eloy Anzola Avatar
    Eloy Anzola


    Now you gonna get me to check out the show.

    Less TV more bike rides… 🙂

    Great post, cool scene.

  4. It was this scene that got me hooked! Great one and how it relates to the art of pitching.