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September 5, 2015

Behind the Scenes of Unilever's Retro 'Mad Men' Ads

by Kona Gallagher, posted Sep 3rd 2010 4:00PM
mad men smith winter vintage ad suave unilever
Maybe this happened to you: You're watching 'Mad Men,' and zipping past the commercials on your DVR. All the sudden, it looks like the show has started up again. Except, this isn't the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and these well-coiffed gentlemen are not ones that you have seen before. In fact, you're not watching 'Mad Men' at all -- you're watching a Dove ad.

Or maybe it's a Breyers ad. Or Suave, or one of half a dozen Unilever-owned products. Unilever, a multi-national corporation, owns over 400 brands. For this season of 'Mad Men,' they have chosen six to feature in minute-long retro vignettes. These vignettes take place in fictional ad agency, Smith Winter Mitchell, a slightly less-drunk version of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Recently, TV Squad spoke with Stacie Bright, the communications marketing manager for Unilever, about how these vignettes came about, and what we can expect to see during future episodes.

It's no secret that as viewers have started turning toward DVRs more and more, advertisers have been left scrambling. After all, television programs exist simply to sell ads, so if people are fast-forwarding through them, how is everyone supposed to make their money? Networks and advertisers have started coming up with increasingly more creative ways to get people to press "play" during commercials.

Last season, Honda had vignettes that aired during 'Chuck' and featured three of its cast members. NBC did the same with 'Community' and Turbo Tax, to middling results. Unilever's approach is somewhat different: instead of having actual cast members from the show, they instead tried to capture the look and feel of the show and provide entertainment content while selling their products, or as Bright put it, to "tap into the cultural phenomenon of 'Mad Men.'"

Just as 'Mad Men' is renowned for its attention to detail regarding the era, these vignettes work hard to capture the same look and feel. Bright said of the retro packaging seen in the spots, "It was important to us to stay true to the heritage of the brands. With that in mind, we recreated the 1960s packaging to reflect the look and feel of products available during that time."

Of course, it takes more than slicked-back hair and a flannel suit to capture people's attention in our fast-forward culture. What really makes these vignettes work is that they're actually funny. While Roger Sterling has some amazing one-liners, 'Mad Men' is far from being a comedy. Phil Smith, who plays the copywriter in the ads, definitely has the characteristics of a campy Roger Sterling, as is seen in this Suave ad.

Bright said that the goal behind these vignettes is to "aim to make all of our advertising and marketing campaigns relevant for our consumers, engaging with them where they work, live and play with compelling content." Translation: They're trying to make you stop fast-forwarding because you think the show's started, but they want to make their message funny and interesting enough so that you'll keep watching even after you realize that rakish man isn't Don Draper.

There are six vignettes in total, for six of Unilever's iconic brands: Dove, Breyers, Hellman's, Klondike, Suave and Vaseline. You can check them all out at the Smith Winter YouTube channel. Four have aired so far, leaving Hellman's and Vaseline to round out the season.

What do you think about the Smith Winter vignettes? Have they caught your eye, or did you zip right past them along with everything else?

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Mark Jeffries

The funny thing is that Unilever, or as it was known in the U.S. in the 60s, Lever Brothers, only owned one of those brands featured in the ads in the 60s--Dove soap. All of the other brands each had a different owner (and in Breyers and Klondike's case for sure, were owned by the family who invented the product--the Klondike bar was the "Irsay's Klondike Bar" back then).

September 07 2010 at 4:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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