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5 Things I Learned About Search Engine Marketing from Don Draper

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5 Things I Learned About Search Engine Marketing from Don Draper

I absolutely love the AMC original series Mad Men. As a matter of fact, I like it so much that I went as the show’s main character, Don Draper, for Halloween.

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In case you’ve been living under a rock the past five years and haven’t heard of the show, it’s set at a 1960’s-era advertising agency on Madison Avenue. Not only is the show highly entertaining, but it also imparts the timeless teachings of marketing and advertising that can easily be applied to search engine marketing.

Patience is a virtue


“Well, Connie. There are snakes that go months without eating and then they catch something, but they’re so hungry that they suffocate while they’re eating. One opportunity at a time.

Don Draper to Conrad Hilton – Season 3, Episode 6


Immediately after hearing this gem, I thought of battling the big fish for competitive keywords. Whether you’re an SEO or SEM, 5 Things I Learned About Search Engine Marketing from Don Draperyou can easily identify with starting off small and working towards your goal. If there’s too much competition for a head term like “power tools”, we’ll naturally advise our clients to go longer-tail while you build links, content, and page authority. Phrases like “24v power tools” or “18v power tools” could be less competitive, save 1,000’s of dollars in ad spend, and drive more qualified traffic.  Search engine marketing is an ongoing, iterative process that doesn’t have a finish line. Be sure to educate your clients on the basics in an effort to effectively manage expectations.

Nostalgia makes the sale


“Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.” 

Don Draper in pitch to Kodak – Season 1, Episode 13


Quite possibly the most powerful scene of the show to date, the concept of evoking nostalgia, or, more broadly,  emotion, is where traditional and digital creative concepts converge. We all remember the good old days:  the moments leading up to our first kiss, learning how to ride a bike, or unwrapping the greatest Christmas gift ever. These are the moments in our lives that we will never forget and if reminded, could stir up the right mix of emotions that would enable us to identify with the advertised product or service. Whether you are buying media for television, radio, billboard, mobile or online, one concept has been proven time and time again: develop creative that your audience can identify with and the conversions will come.

 Change the Conversation


“I’m not drawing a line at all. P.R. people understand this, but they can never execute it. If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation.”Don Draper – Season 3, Episode 2


If there are any P.R. folks out there reading this article, those are the words of Don Draper… not me! When it comes to search engine marketing, “changing the conversation” has such a high level of importance that it has its own acronym: ORM. Online reputation management changes the face of the SERPS from by displacing negative reviews, comments, and articles via the promotion of positive content. Because we’re in a time when 86% of consumers use search engines for research a product or service, managing your reputation and keeping negative feedback to a minimum is essential.

Battle Against Commodization


“Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this. They take all this monkey crap and just stick it in a briefcase completely unaware that their success depends on something more than their shoeshine. You are the product. You — feeling something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.”Don Draper – Season 2, Episode 1

5 Things I Learned About Search Engine Marketing from Don DraperLet’s face it – we’ve all lost a pitch to a firm or freelancer that bids low and/or “guarantees” results. Sadly this has been happening a lot lately and as a result it’s looking more and more like search engine marketing has become a commodity.  Draper’s quote above should help us realize that the product (i.e. service) provided by agencies isn’t the same from one to the next. The strength of the people – agency management, leaders, and employees – is what will make the sale and differentiate us from the competition.

 Clients: Love ‘em or Leave ‘em


“Recently my advertising agency ended a long relationship with Lucky Strike cigarettes, and I’m relieved. For over 25 years we devoted ourselves to peddling a product for which good work is irrelevant, because people can’t stop themselves from buying it. A product that never improves, that causes illness, and makes people unhappy. But there was money in it. A lot of money…”Don Draper – Season 4, Episode 12

I think we’ve all taken on a client or two three four five six that we didn’t necessarily agree with or support. Why do we do it? Well, as Lil’ Wayne so eloquently puts it: “momma need a house, baby need some shoes”. The concept of taking on clientele for revenue is a double-edged sword: cash is good, but not being able to identify with what your client does is bad. In Draper’s case, his client was a tobacco company in a booming industry before Surgeon General Warnings and intense regulation. As a general rule of thumb, before sending out that next proposal, ask yourself “Is this the type of client that I’d be proud enough to show off?”

Are there any other Mad Men fans in the search engine marketing rank and file? Feel free to share your favorite quote!


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Anthony Piwarun

Anthony Piwarun is a Milwaukee SEO/a> who manages a Search Engine Marketing team at Zeon Solutions, an Inc. 5000 award ... [Read full bio]

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