In season six of Mad Men, Don Draper and Stan Rizzo pitch a minimalist, elegant idea to Heinz. Presenting three images – of chips, a steak and a burger – against stark white backdrops, there is only one thing missing. Don and Stan flip cellophane sheets over the pictures to add the slogan: “Pass the Heinz.” It is not well-received. “It feels like half an ad,” says the Heinz exec.
However, Don’s remarkable ability to survive any setback, be it divorce, identity theft or alcoholism, has come to the fore again, as Heinz have at last picked up his pitch. In a canny bit of marketing, the company has turned Don’s half-ad into a full one, appearing on a billboard in New York and in print in Variety and the New York Post. They sent credits to AdWeek that looked as though they had been produced on a typewriter, which attributed the work not just to Heinz’s real-life ad agency, David, but to the fictional Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce. David’s chief creative officer, Anselmo Ramos, even added a spot of corporate fan fiction, claiming to have had a cocktail with Don Draper, who would, by now, be 91, and on his third liver at least. As a stunt, it has been effective enough that SDCP would be proud, and the fact that it had already been created presumably saved on office hours, although David says it did have to reshoot the images.
Given that it was a series consumed with how to sell, Mad Men was inevitably tied up with the business of product placement. In 2011, showrunner Matthew Weiner told fans that, despite the show’s heavy reliance on real brands, there had only been three instances of product placement during the first four seasons; most brands had not paid to appear. Some, however, did shell out, most notably Heineken. When Betty Draper hosts a dinner party in the season two episode A Night to Remember, she offers guests “a frosty glass of beer from Holland”, and the guests go on to discuss its merits.
Perhaps the most famous brand association is tied to the series finale, in which (spoiler alert) Don Draper simultaneously finds enlightenment and comes up with one of the most famous slogans of all time: “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.” Coca-Cola says it gave permission but did not pay, nor did it know how the slogan would be used. Coca-Cola fared better than poor Jaguar in season five. Not only did the fictional Jaguar exec coerce the office manager, Joan Harris, into sleeping with him for the account, Lane Pryce also attempted suicide in one of its cars. Remarkably, though, even this did not damage the brand’s reputation. According to a study commissioned by Forbes in 2013, the five companies that benefited most from appearing on the show were Chevy, Dow Chemical, Avon, Jaguar and, yes, Heinz.