Cable network AMC's new TV series about 1960s Madison Avenue is successfully using a time-honored ad tactic to woo viewers and advertisers: nostalgia.
Mad Men, AMC's first original series, began July 19 and tells the tales of the ruthless, promiscuous employees of a fictional New York City ad agency.
AMC's efforts to evoke advertising's "good old days" for ad buyers and viewers include:
•Sixties swag. Among promotional gifts for potential ad buyers is one touting the era of three-martini lunches. Oversized "lunch boxes" hold three martini glasses and swizzle sticks that tout Mad Men as a "stirring new drama."
•Trivia teasers. Relevant historical trivia is inserted into the hour-long show's two four-minute ad breaks to hold viewers' interest. For example: "First cruise line to advertise on network TV: Carnival," and then a Carnival ad follows.
"If you're viewing on a DVR, you're going to stop and check it out, rather than (fast-forward) through the advertising," says Charlie Collier, AMC's general manager.
•Your period product here. Show sponsor Jack Daniel's also has been integrated into the storyline. For instance, characters will order the brand by name, and bottles are among the props on the set.
AMC is open to more such placements if the tie-in is "authentic," says Collier. "It has to be something that was around in the '60s and that the producers would find comfortable in the show."
•Ad "legends." Starting with Thursday's new episode (10 p.m. ET), 30-second videos with industry "legends" will be sandwiched into ad breaks.
The first features Jerry Della Femina, CEO of agency Della Femina Rothschild Jeary and Partners, who broke into advertising in 1961. Della Femina — named one of the most influential ad people in the 20th century by trade magazine Advertising Age— tells of feeling like "a star" on commercial shoots.
Upcoming vignettes include Martin Puris, who helped position BMW as "The Ultimate Driving Machine," and George Lois, who created the "I Want My MTV" campaign. The clips urge viewers — and potential Mad Men advertisers — to go to amctv.com to learn more about the "legends" and the show.
AMC has a lot riding on Mad Men. Started as American Movie Classics in 1984, it renamed itself AMC in 2001 and began expanding its programming, most recently with original shows.
Last year, it aired a two-part TV Western called Broken Trail. In 2008, it will air its second series, Breaking Bad, about a chemistry teacher who becomes a drug kingpin.
Original shows cost more but can get a lot more viewers, and higher ad prices, than movie reruns. Mad Men's premiere had a 1.4 rating (about 1.2 million homes), according to Nielsen Media Research. That's 75% higher than AMC's typical Thursday night.
Changing AMC's classic movie identity will be tough, says John Moore, director of ideas and innovation for Mullen ad-buying unit MediaHub. "When you do such a good job branding yourself as one thing, sometimes it's difficult to evolve from that."
Yet, AMC has made progress, he says. Broken Trail has 16 Emmy nominations this year. Mad Men has gotten good buzz from critics and is drawing viewers.
Mad Men also has strong genes, says Moore. It was created and written by Matthew Weiner, executive producer of The Sopranos, a connection AMC strongly touts in promotions.