Using some clever detective work (about which I will say little except that Google was really all I needed), I think I’ve uncovered the master plan behind the Mad Men Alternate Twitterverse that I’ve been enjoying lately.

I could be wrong, but here’s my theory of how this all works:

First, there are a large number of participants in this operation — not a single, lone writer playing many different roles as many suspect. These people are writers, advertising professionals, bloggers, performers, and marketers. Basically clever people.

And few, if any, of them work for AMC. I suspect some mastermind (Deep Focus, it seems) was hired by AMC to manage this campaign. They subcontracted the work to a dozen or more Twitter “actors”, each playing a character from the show or from history. Some actors may be playing more than one role, but I suspect that most actors are assigned to play a single character.

These actors use Twitter in basically the same way normal Twitter users do — updating “what they are doing” every so often, responding to direct messages, having many side conversations. But always in character. The actors tweet each other and they tweet the “real world” people they’ve been following. Each actor has their own writing and Tweeting style — some stick firmly to the 1962 universe, others slip into occasional 2008 anachronisms.

They also socialize differently, with behavior that mirrors the broad range of real Twitter user behaviors. For example, @peggyolson follows nearly 1,800 people — basically following anybody who follows her. She even trolls through other characters’ follow-ees and starts following new people, just like many Twitter users do.

@David_Ogilvy, on the other hand, has over 200 followers but only follows 23 people — just as some Twitter celebrities often do, carefully controlling who they wish to interrupt them.

Lawyers and Money

So what happened last week when the project was briefly cancelled? Well, it seems that AMC’s right hand sometimes doesn’t know what it’s left hand is doing: the lawyers who hunt down copyright violators apparently didn’t know that AMC’s marketing department was behind these fake Twitter accounts. Once this was cleared up, however, Twitter was able to reactivate the accounts — pointing the way, perhaps, to Twitter founder Evan Williams‘s projection that Twitter is going to try to monetize through corporate contracts.

Perhaps facilitating alternate universes will somday become Twitter’s bread and butter? Selling official account names for fictional characters across hundreds of fandoms? We shall see.

Why This Matters

In any case, I am completely impressed with this work, if only for the fact that it radically refocuses where and how digital marketing dollars can be spent while still exploiting Web 2.0 social media in a profoundly savvy way.

Think of it this way: How much would you charge to spend a few minutes every few hours (even while working at your normal job) to write snarky, chatty Tweets in the voice of a character from a really good TV show? Even if they pay you as much as $2 per tweet, then the person playing, say, Don Draper would have earned around $500 in the first few weeks of this project (he’s posted about 250 tweets overall).

So let’s do this for all 20-30 characters for a few months, and let’s throw in a supervising editor and a project manager to keep the project humming along. It seems to me that the whole project’s budget couldn’t cost more than $75-100k — a fairly typical, even low, budget for many TV-show promotional mini-sites.

That’s $100k for a PR-generating, sophisticated, far-reaching digital marketing effort that requires no HTML skill, no information architecture work, no programming or server configurations, almost none of the normal digital marketing skills we normally think of as part of this kind of work. All they need is some good writers, a good idea, and an open-minded client.

Well done.


8 responses to “Exploring the Alternate Twitterverse”

  1. “Far reaching”? It would be pretty hard to convince a company that Twitter has comparable reach (especially in certain target markets) to a website. Ask 100 people which they’ve heard of: Twitter or the internet…

  2. Matthew,

    It’s not just the people who are following this directly via Twitter who are being exposed to this. Check out for a run down of all the online and traditional media that have covered this story. I’m just one example, but prior to this I didn’t even know what channel AMC was in my system. This past Sunday I watched all six episodes of season 2 and have season 1 in my Blockbuster online cue.

  3. @Matthew Parnell: You may be right by sheer numbers that this doesn’t compare to, say, a site that gets a million visitors. But I would argue that (a) the audience this campaign reaches are far more dedicated fans who evangelize the show in other aspects of their lives, (b) the audience this campaign reaches are more desirable to the show’s producers as they are more connected, more tech sophisticated, and more likely to work in the advertising and marketing and media industries (c) this campaign is generating press.

    Remember, the #1 thing that a non-pay-TV cable channel is selling is advertising time during the shows. The more Mad Men’s marketing appeals to people in the ad and marketing industries (something the show’s content already kind of assures) the higher the prices they can sell the ad time for.

  4. We’re focusing too much on the bright side. I’m most worried about the consequences regarding brand hijacking gone awry.

    As the digital copycats of Sarah Palin are proving, thing don’t always play that nice. And regarding the Mad Men Twitterverse, it’s fine for a while, but since they are so deep in character, it’s hard to be really interested. No talk about iPhone or Chrome, Palin or Obama, soccer or baseball, turns Tweeple off.

    But it sure is a great extension to the series. It’s still a great insight on how social media can be used.

  5. @Armando Alves: I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on social media hijacking.

    A few additional thoughts:

    1) The Mad Men Alternate Twitterverse, as we now know, was not a hijacking at all, but an official AMC action.

    2) The managers of Twitter have shown that they will (a) shut down brand hijackers, and (b) support official branded social media usage (as opposed to Facebook and most other social networks which do not permit fictional characters into their ranks).

    And I agree that the best part of the Mad Men Tweeters is when they go off-message a little bit and address contemporary anachronistic issues and people. I kinda like that.

    Basically, the more the characters stay in their alternate universe, the less relevant they are to my real universe.

    And nice use of “Tweeple”. That’s new to me!

  6. Armando,

    Maybe you’re not following the full Mad Men twitterverse. Here’s a couple of Tweets from the past day or two:

    David_Ogilvy Must remember to listen to the voice-overs for Gillette when I get back. In a world where the product is king, you need a great voice man. (Referencing death of Don “In a world” LaFontaine.)

    David_Ogilvy The researchers are all talking about chrome today. Must be for some new design element on the Rolls Royce. (Google chrome reference).

    I think in general the people behind this have done a nice job of interacting with “viewers” and each other, and mixing the Mad Men Universe with the current one. Unlike Chris, I’m not yet convinced this was an offiicial AMC action.

  7. I hate this busienss, but I love this business… One of the things that drives me crazy is how people outside think they know what’s going on inside Sterling Cooper. Heh.

    Have another drink kid, you don’t have a clue what’s real or what you’re talking about.

  8. @Roger_Sterling: I have a sneaking suspicion that you and Bud_Melman are the same person, so I suppose I may be wrong where I guessed that every character is played by different people.

    I would be also delighted to be wrong in guessing that this project involved any exchange of money. I would love to learn that this is entirely out of AMC’s or Deep Focus’s control.

    But most of all I agree that I need another drink. I’ve been making myself old fashioneds a lot lately, but I’ve not settled on whether flat or soda water should be used, or for that matter if I should use any water at all.