The 3rd season of Mad Men ended with a new agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and with big expectations for all characters. Everyone was glad that there was a fresh start. Fast forward to the last episode of the 4th season and here we go again: after the personal and business-wise turmoil, Don & co. can't wait for another fresh start.
In the 4th season Matthew Weiner, the creator of the series, introduced several new and important characters, e.g. Faye and Megan, and showed us glimpses of market research usage in advertising. But in Mad Men’s world one thing remains the same: the intelligent use of product placement.
Here’s a recap of product placement (beware of spoilers!), episode-by-episode, from the 4th season of arguably one of the best TV shows at the moment (or in my opinion: ever).
Episode 1 – Public Relations
This episode was extensively covered in the blog post Brand spotting in Mad Men: Public Relations (S04E01). The season opener includes some visual and spoken product placement. Don was interviewed by Advertising Age and The Wall Street Journal, mainly because he became quite successful between the 3rd and 4th season. The reason: the ad for Glo-Coat, self-polishing floor wax produced by Johnson Wax (now S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.).
During the episode the creative team is trying to win a pitch for Jantzen, a bathing suit company, while the other product placement (or product displacement) was for an imaginary brand: Sugarberry Ham.
For me one of the most interesting placements in Mad Men was alcohol drinks. Men and women of Madison Avenue were really heavy drinkers and while Roger Sterling once drank Stoli vodka, the times had changed. Don’s favourite drink is now Canadian Club, there was a bottle of Jamison in the office and as we’ll see in the upcoming episodes, Smirnoff is the vodka of the 4th season.
Episode 2 – Christmas Comes But Once a Year
The second episode included Polaroid camera, which was given to Lee Garner, Jr. of Lucky Strike as a Christmas present, and Pond’s cold cream, an account that was brought to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce by an ex-employee Freedie Rumsen.
Product placement from the 2nd episode is covered in the blog post Brand spotting in Mad Men: Christmas Comes But Once a Year (S04E02).
Episode 3 – The Good News
The 3rd episode revolved around Don’s visit to Anna in California. There was no special product placement, more like props from that period. Don drove to Anna’s house in red Cadillac Imperial while looking super-cool in grey suit and wearing RE (Randolph Engineering) aviators.
Another prop: during the conversation between Don and Anna we can clearly see two Coca Cola bottles.
When Don returned to NYC he met Lane in the office. Lane opened a bottle of whisky that was “something rather special from my father for my birthday.” When Don asked him, what it is, I have to admit that I’ve expected some famous brand, but Lane replied that he had no idea. Reports from the web suggest that this bottle was either Tullamore Special Reserve or Redbread Irish whisky. Lost opportunity? Who knows?
Episode 4 – The Rejected
The fourth episode included only spoken product placement. SCDP’s new account Pond’s Cold Cream demanded that the agency drops their competitor Clearasil, even though the latter is an acne cream aimed at teens and Pond’s is cold cream aimed at single women looking for a husband.
Pete had to tell his father-in-law, who’s a high-level executive at the Vicks Chemical Company, that SCDP need to drop the Clearasil account. But somehow he got an even better deal: while losing Clearasil, he got the entire Vicks Chemical account.
Episode 5 – The Chrysanthemum and the Sword
One of the plotlines from the 5th episode was SCDP’s attempt to get Honda’s account. Apparently Honda had no idea that Weiner & co. would include Honda and their motorcycles in the story.
50 years ago Honda was selling around 40,000 motorcycles yearly. Their optimistic plan for the USA was to increase sales to 200,000 units per year. To achieve the plan they turned to Madison Avenue, more specifically to Grey Advertising. Their campaign “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda.” was a huge success and it became one of the most famous advertising campaigns from that period.
Episode 6 – Waldorf Stories
SCDP got a Clio award for their Glo-Coat ad, but the most significant product placement was for Life cereal, a Quaker Oats brand. While pitching the idea for the ad to Quaker Oats executives, Don was drunk and didn’t impress, of course. He even used some words from the legendary Kodak speech (you can read more about that episode in the blog post The best product placement in the TV shows). Don’s first ad with the slogan “Eat Life by a Bowlful” was a half-success. The Life people only liked the picture, but thought the tagline could use some work. After a minute of pitching slogans, Don used the one he heard when he was interviewing Jane’s cousin: “Life: The Cure for the Common Breakfast.”
Episode 7 – The Suitcase
The central episode of the 4th season and one of the best episodes of Mad Men had several plots. Among others: the famous Mohammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston fight, Peggy’s break-up with her boyfriend, the making of the Samsonite ad, … but the most important was Don’s dealing with Anna’s death. Recently I’ve watched the episode again and I have to admit that Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss were absolutely brilliant. Just watch the episode (again), because this is television at its best.
The Ali vs. Liston fight is noted for Ali's so-called “phantom punch” that knocked out Sonny Liston in the first round. The match is also known for a photo of Ali standing over a fallen Liston, one of the most famous photos in sports history. Don used the picture to sketch an ad for Samsonite titled “The Champ” and ordered Peggy to come up with ten taglines.
Samsonite admitted that they provided props for Mad Men, but the company was pleasantly surprised that its product had such a prominent place in this episode. Samsonite also said that it usually doesn’t pay for product placement and also didn’t pay for its appearance in Mad Men.
Episode 8 – The Summer Man
The episode began with Don swimming in the New York Athletic Club’s pool. His problems with drinking affected him too much, so he decided that something needs to be done. He started swimming, cutting back on the booze and he even switched to drinking beer. We could see him at his apartment, writing in his diary, with a can of Budweiser on his desk. That scene was very long, app 25 seconds, and Budweiser can was clearly visible. For that episode Budweiser provided some old cans and Ellen Freund, Mad Men's prop master, apparently drained the 50-year-old beer and replaced it with water so the actors could drink from them.
A part of Don’s detox kit was also a can of Dinty Moore’s beef stew.
One of the plots in the 8th episode was providing ideas for cocktails that would include Mountain Dew. Joey came with an idea for the combination of Mountain Dew and vodka. He called it Jet Fuel, but Peggy quickly changed it to Rocket Fuel. Anyway, that idea was labelled as “an emergency”. Even though Mountain Dew’s product placement was spoken and visual, PepsiCo, Mountain Dew's owner, said that it wasn’t paid placement or initiated by PepsiCo.
Episode 9 – The Beautiful Girls
This episode does not contain any prominent product placement. SCDP had a meeting with Fillmore Auto Parts, but apparently that’s a fictional company.
Episode 10 – Hands and Knees
Lucky Strike was Sterling Cooper’s and then SCDP’s biggest client. The reliance on one big client or keeping all eggs in one basket if you want is always dangerous. We’ve all been anticipating that the moment of ‘divorce’ will once came and here it was. Lee Garner, Jr. of Lucky Strike told Roger that he’s moving the account to BBDO.
“The unintended and unsponsored ‘product placement’ appears to have generated some increased awareness” said Andrew Robertson, chief executive at BBDO Worldwide in New York. He joked: “To date, this has not resulted in any incremental business.”
Tenth episode also revealed Lane's double life in America. He’s been a regular guest to Playboy Club, a place where his “chocolate bunny” girlfriend Toni works.
During the episode SCDP crew tried to get the North American Aviation account, but because of Don’s murky past, he forced Pete to pull out of the possible deal. North American Aviation was a major US aerospace manufacturer, but through series of mergers and sales, it’s now part of Boeing.
Episode 11 – Chinese Wall
In the 11th episode we saw Peggy finally in love with Abe. She was so positive and self-confident that she even incorporated some of her personal life into a campaign: she spiced up the Playtex gloves pitch with details from her new relationship.
Playtex was involved in the second season when Sterling Cooper’s ad men impressed them with a Jackie/Marilyn pitch, which was based on the hypothesis that women want to be either Jacqueline Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe.
Episode 12 – Blowing Smoke
Things were getting worse and worse for SCDP. After Lucky Strike they’ve lost several other clients. They tried to get new accounts with the help of Dr. Faye Miller, who set Don up with Heinz vinegar, sauces and beans. Apparently Heinz said that it was “very pleased” to appear in Mad Men, but it had no partnership or involvement with AMC.
Faye’s boss Geoff recommended that SCDP should pursue Philip Morris' new women's cigarette, and said that he had arranged an exclusive pitch meeting. Unfortunately, Philip Morris cancelled the meeting and awarded the cigarette account to rival agency Leo Burnett.
Don realized that they were trying too hard to get new business and they looked desperate. So he wrote a letter to The New York Times, which turned out to be a full-page ad “Why I'm Quitting Tobacco”.
Episode 13 – Tomorrowland
During the season finale Don had a meeting with the American Cancer Society and proposed an anti-smoking campaign aimed at teenagers. According to the article in Fortune magazine, the American Cancer Society was not aware that it would appear on Mad Men. They didn’t pay for the placement, but were glad that they were involved.
Fourth season ended with some surprises, but several elements of this series haven’t changed: clever script and brilliant acting, attention to period details and visual style, lovely costumes, reflections of American society in the 60s and the intelligent use of product placement.
Mad Men is THE show for all (m)ad lovers!