Expert Marketer Magazine

A Mad Man’s Finest Hour

A Master Class in the Art of Persuasion

by Matthew KohutFebruary 2015

It was a meeting like thousands of others in its time: men in suits sitting around a conference table. The clients had come to hear the pitch. They were excited about their new technology, and were looking for ad men who could get the public excited about it too.

The ad man began with a story from early in his own career. “I was in-house at a fur company with this old pro copywriter—he was Greek, named Teddy,” he said. “And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is new. It creates an itch. You simply put your product on as a kind of Calamine lotion.” The clients nodded. This guy understood where they were coming from.

“But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product,” the ad man continued. “Nostalgia. It’s delicate. But potent.” He dimmed the lights and turned on the client’s nifty new slide projector, and there was a photo of two children playing. “In Greek, nostalgia means the ‘pain from an old wound,’” he said. In that instant, every mind in the room drifted back to a memory—a lazy summer day from childhood, a family gathering, a beloved dog or cat.

“It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone,” he continued, confirming what they had all just felt. He clicked through snapshots from a family photo album, his words punctuated by the mechanical rotation of the projector.

“This device,” he said, “isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” Finally the ad man closed in on his pitch, the reason they were all in the room. “It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the ‘carousel.’ It lets us travel the way a child travels—around and around, and home again, to a place we know we are loved.”

The account was his.

The ad man here was of course Mr. Don Draper, and the campaign he was pitching was for Kodak’s new slide projector, which its executives had wanted to call “The Wheel” to underscore how the new invention worked. Rather than walk into the room and explain that “The Carousel” was simply a better name, Draper first created an emotional moment that did the job for him. He took the suits from Kodak out of the “Show me what you got” mindset of a pitch meeting and transported them to the realm of story and shared feelings. Emotion leads, logic follows.

What’s worth noting is how he did it. While the slides provided the images, the words called up powerful, visceral feelings: an itch, a wound, an ache. When Don Draper says the word “ache,” our brain makes sense of that word by remembering what it’s like to feel that way ourselves. So when we hear the word, we ache a little inside.

And once we share that emotional moment together, we are open to his ideas. Connect, then lead. That’s how persuasion works.

(Watch Don Draper’s Carousel pitch here.)

Matthew Kohut is the co-author of Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential.


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