Even allowing for the fact that Mad Men is a show about the gloss of marketing, without a doubt, this clip is one of the most powerful 3 minutes of television ever created.
We would expect that you are already familiar with the characters of Mad Men as this programme is essential viewing for anyone who has pretensions to creativity and/or working in advertising or marketing. Supposedly taking place roughly in October/November of 1960, Don makes this pitch after he is asked to come up with a new advertising angle for Kodak’s ‘Wheel’ projector. The pitch is made towards the end of the episode and is inspired by a late encounter between Don and Harry where they speak about the latent power of photography and the power behind each photo.
Don has to make a pitch to the executives at Kodak that will allow them to sell the ‘wheel’, as it is known up to this point, that spins around on the top of the slide projector and allows you to show one slide after another. They see this wheel as an exciting new technology; in an era of excitement over new technologies. It is a time when people are being launched into space, huge advances are being made in science and medicine and American optimism is riding high on a wave of consumer confidence and affluence. The challenge is how to market the oldest technology that exists? How to market something as a technological breakthrough when it also represents something that was mastered thousands of years ago?
The key to Don’s presentation is the power of nostalgia. Don creates a beautiful twist when pitching this advert. He creates a relationship with the Kodak executives, he shows photos of himself and his family in the past, while also verbally seducing the executives and the audience in the pitch.
The carousel scene made such an impression. Shown towards the end of season 1, it encapsulates not only the themes and storylines of every character in the first season, but also the different layers that the series taught us to look out for.
Viewed in the cold light of day, this scene can be viewed merely as dramatic schmaltz (albeit of a very high calibre) or brilliant television; one of those rare moments in the best television dramas which demonstrate what can be done when real talent is harnessed. The viewers of Mad Men ‘buy’ the scene for its straightforward, raw emotional power, or they choose to see it as the ultimate on-screen manipulation.