What TV’s Mad Men and Kodak Teach Us about Content Marketing

mad men cast Plenty Has Changed from 1960 to 2010 but What Is Most Important Has Stayed the Same.

If you’re not already a fan of the TV classic in the making, Mad Men, it’s all about the Madison Avenue ad agency world of the early 1960s. There was plenty of drinking, smoking, and carrying on. But, there was plenty of great, and surprisingly timeless, marketing taking place, too.

Most of you probably are not old enough to remember when housewives really did wear shirtwaist dresses to do housework, when color TV was just beginning to take hold, when JFK  had just promised a man on the moon, and when a lot of famous brands were invented or enhanced by the ad agency Mad Men in the title.  That may have been a long time ago, but we can still learn some timeless content marketing truths from one wonderful segment.

In a Mad Men segment about the creation of the Kodak Carousel the roots of content marketing shine through when lead character, Don Draper, makes it clear that building a brand is all about storytelling and engaging the consumer–and not about technology or the company itself.

kodak carousel slide Way back in the 1960s, Kodak dominated the photography world in ways that seem almost unimaginable today. Their technology was leading edge. How to make it relevant to consumers was the hard part.

The ad agency’s challenge was to launch a new slide projector that enabled customers to load a bunch of slides into a wheel so that they could create a long-running slideshow that ran seamlessly.

Don Draper, the top creative guy, launched his presentation by saying of the still unnamed product, "It’s not a wheel. It’s a carousel." He went on to say, "This device isn’t a space ship. It’s a time machine."

kodak slide kids in tree Don then painted a picture of precious family moments captured forever and relived again and again thanks to the wonderful Kodak Carousel "time machine."

What struck me about the Kodak segment was that Don’s approach to marketing a product was essentially timeless. Marketing is still all about telling stories that connect with your customers. Even though we now tell those stories on websites, blogs, and social media, our need to build a bond with the folks who buy our products remains the same.

The best of traditional marketing lives on in today as ‘content marketing.’ To boil it down to basics, here are the timeless marketing commandments that were true for Kodak in 1960 and for all of us today as we focus on delivering content that is relevant and compelling for our customers.

Your job as a content marketer then and now:

  • B to B: Make your customers successful
  • B to C: Make your customers’ lives better
  • 1st understand, then be understood
  • Listen, really listen to your customers
  • Engage your customers in dialogue
  • Encourage word of mouth

Of course, a critically important difference between 1960 and today is the new, affordable, and  powerful tools we can use to pursue all of those content marketing activities. Kodak really understands what content marketing is all about. We might have anticipated that to be true from their eager acceptance of the heartfelt, storytelling approach taken for the launch of the Carousel.

Kodak Has Made the 21st Century Marketing Transition Brilliantly

kodak iPhone app

The Kodak Carousel lives on virtually in an iPhone application that permits all of the capture and sharing of memories that meant so much back in 1960 and still mean so much to us today in 2010.

Kodak understands its customers in 2010 on an emotional level just they did 50 years ago. They now participate enthusiastically in a full range of content marketing activities that revolve around storytelling. And, today, the storytelling comes just as much from customers as it does from Kodak. Here is what they have going online:

  • a website that is rich in video and visuals
  • multiple blogs
  • multiple Facebook pages and games
  • a very cool iPhone application
  • a presence on Twitter

kodak 2010 online content marketing

Content marketing: Important in 1960.  Essential in 2010.   Game changer for small companies.

Today, content is both essential and easy to do. Fortunately, even solopreneurs with micro-resources can be effective content marketers. Content marketing really does level the playing field with with larger–even much larger–competitors.

You may not be able to replicate everything online that Kodak is doing. But you can come pretty darned close. Absolutely every tool they use online is available to you free or inexpensively. In fact, you can’t afford not to implement a content marketing strategy. It’s working for Kodak and it will work for you.


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  1. Posted March 25, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I love Mad Men and I agree that although the show is amazingly entertaining, that there really is a lot to learn from the Marketing aspect. Thanks for sharing… I’m ready for next season!

  2. Posted March 26, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Your post reminded me of what David Ogilvy did back then as well focusing on direct marketing with content that matters. I think most content marketers understood the concept and value of content marketing but sometimes what’s missing is the “how” in execution. Everyone now knows to engage and listen but very few do it and even less does it well.

    One thing for sure is that content marketing is here to stay for a long time, thanks for your post.

  3. Newt Barrett
    Posted March 26, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for you comment. When I belatedly discovered Mad Men late last year, I realized how contemporary much of their thinking remains.
    I loved your post about the car dealer experience. Too many marketers think that if they ignore the online conversations about their products and brands, they will all go away. A real challenge for small companies is finding the time and people to do the work of engagement.

  4. Posted March 26, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    And that’s exactly where the problem is specifically for SMBs. They lack the time and resources but aren’t we all busy? Online relationship building is simply an extending of real-world social networking – in person.

    I think it’s a direct reflection of how much you care about your brand and a brand is basically reputation.

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