5 Lessons From Mad Men’s Peggy Olson and Other Badass TV Marketers


Since the advent of the commercial and integrated marketing, TV has been a marketer’s BFF. The relationship goes both ways. Turns out we can all learn a lot from fictional marketers in some of the best new and classic series to ever hit the small screen.

With Mad Men madness at fever pitch, here are learnings and wise words from some of our favorite fictional marketers, as seen on TV… or Netflix/YouTube/Hulu/wherever you get your fix these days!

1. Peggy Olson, Mad Men


  • Acting Creative Director? Sterling Cooper & Partners, 1960s New York

Career Highlights & Professional Profile

Sure, many look to Don Draper for inspiration, but our money’s on his erstwhile protégée. We’ve seen Peggy grow more than any other character on Mad Men. She’s really come into her own, with a professional integrity and dedication that steadily eclipses her coworkers.

We’ve seen her rise from the ranks: from unsure secretary, to the first female copywriter at SCDP since the war, to powerhouse under-30 copy chief with a CLIO to her name (how’s that for magic beans? Thanks Heinz)!

She’s flown the nest to Cutler Gleason Chaough and boomeranged back home at the merged Sterling Cooper & Partners, stronger and more determined than ever.

Marketing Lessons

At 1:53 in the clip above, after her employees pitch three iterations of the same concept as wholly different approaches, Peggy utters one of the best lines in the entire show’s run:

“If you can’t tell the difference between which part’s the idea and which part’s the execution of the idea, you’re of no use to me.” -Peggy Olson » Tweet this classic Peggy burn «

Understanding the difference between concept and execution is at the core of our discipline and doesn’t usually come naturally. At some point in most of our early careers a mentor like Peggy or Don has to hammer home how to frame an idea, even how to think, in order to isolate and present successful strategies and tactics.

We last saw Peggy sitting in Don’s office looking out at the New York skyline poised to presumably fill both her mentors’ shoes, so we can’t wait to see where Madison Avenue takes her in the final seventh season.

2. Darrin Stephens, Bewitched


  • Advertising Executive, McMann and Tate, 1960s-1970s New York

Career Highlights & Professional Profile

On Bewitched, Darrin was famously played by two actors sharing the name Dick (York & Sargent), which seems fitting given his apparent workload.

By the looks of what we see of his Madison Avenue gig on the show, he’s somehow on accounts, copy and art direction all by himself for a plethora of clients.

Add to that his micromanaging boss, Larry Tate, whose frequent firing threats may well have inspired a young Donald Trump, and it’s a wonder he doesn’t call upon his wife’s magical skill set as often as he reaches for a drink (which is pretty often, even for the ’60s).

Marketing Lessons

(and here’s Part 2 if you want to finish the episode!)

As you’ll see in the video above (starting at 4:00), while working on a campaign for Caldwell Soup (an account they are in serious danger of losing), Darrin finds his initial run of concepts lacking and uninspired. He’s tempted to use Samantha’s clever idiom rejigs that play on themes like the Space Race but thinks better of it.

He is concerned they may have been sourced from his wife’s secret talents and that benefitting from it would result in a slippery career slope away from his own creativity and towards her magic.

While most of us don’t have supernatural spouses, this episode explores the anxiety of losing our own creative muscle as we move up the ranks into more managerial positions. Ultimately Tate forces Darrin’s guilty hand, and to his pleasant surprise Caldwell is still unimpressed.

In the end Darrin and Samantha come up with the winning concept together in their home on Morning Glory Circle, winning his client back after the fact and proving a few things that are vital in our business:

  • Never sell your own potential short. Not believing in your own capacity for creativity creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • When you’re stuck, a good brainstorm sesh with a peer coming from a fresh vantage point can take you from circling a solid angle to nailing it. Collaboration FTW!
  • Your brain keeps working long after pencils down. Sometimes passed deadlines become arbitrary in the wake of a just right Goldilocks concept.

“In the advertising business, you’re just as good as your last battle.” -Darrin Stephens » Tweet this Darrin truism «

3. Elliot Weston, Thirtysomething


  • Partner, The Michael & Elliot Company, 1980s-1990s Philadelphia

Career Highlights & Professional Profile

When we first meet Art Director Elliot Weston it’s early days in the agency he’s launched with copywriting business partner Michael Steadman. Like many fledgling SMBs they struggle to make payroll, deliver stellar work and handle demanding clients as they balance their personal lives and young families with the demands of running their business.

Together, their creativity and gusto is palpable and thirtysomething, the dramedy that introduced that word into our vernacular, paints perhaps the most realistic picture of indie agency life in television and of the yuppie baby boomer/Big Chill generation.

Marketing Lessons

While his partner Michael struggles with his ideals in the face of client demands, Elliot keeps them grounded with his pragmatism, creative problem solving and charm. In the video above (also starting at 4:00), after we see Michael giving a terse earful to a client, Elliot uses a playful and sarcastic make-believe follow-up phone call to drive the point home that Michael should be more open to compromise given the stakes for their company:

Elliot: [faking a follow-up call] “Hi Mr. Teller? Hi! Mike’s partner here, Elliot. Mike’s had an unfortunate accident. And he’s dead. And I just wanted to tell you how much I like the idea of stealing a CLIO-award winning campaign and especially how much I like the idea of $200,000. Because without that $200,000: we’re going out of business, and that’s what my partner forgot. And that’s why he’s dead.” [Facepalm]

Ultimately, their creative partnership succeeds where the business itself could not. Elliot and Michael close up shop and take on art & copy duties together at a big box agency. Through it all, it’s Elliot’s sense of humor, perseverance and nimble brainstorming that drives their best work, while in their private lives their strengths and weaknesses are oddly and poignantly reversed.

“We’ll deal with higher-class sleazeballs. We’ll come back to win another day.” -Elliot Weston » Tweet this Elliot quip «

4. Samantha Jones, Sex & The City

Samantha Jones

  • Owner, Samantha Jones PR, 1990s-2000s New York

Career Highlights & Professional Profile

With the exception of Carrie, we only see the occasional glimpse into the working lives of the rest of the Sex and the City besties. For the most part it seemed as though running her own PR firm in New York was the least of Samantha’s scheduling challenges.

How refreshing, then, when the show let her shine in her professional element with one of its most memorable plotlines. We watch as Samantha takes Jerry Jerrod, a young, unfortunately-named, hunky waiter under her wing and rebrands him as Smith Jerrod, transforming him into an A-List actor practically overnight.

Marketing Lessons

Proving that when the rising tide of integrated marketing really works it can lift all boats, the show’s high profile Absolut tie-in was cleverly worked into the episode from start to finish.

From the billboard ad in Times Square to the recipe for an Absolut Hunk martini, the product placement was so pitch perfect that it added a refreshing meta twist and inspired some of the best writing on the whole series. It was as if Samantha Jones herself had been behind the vodka giant’s public relations – in real life.

“It’s the way God & Madison Avenue intended!” -Samantha Jones » Tweet this Samantha saying «

5. Schmidt, New Girl


  • Marketing Associate, 2010s Los Angeles

Career Highlights & Professional Profile

Even accounting for the quirkiness of New Girl, Schmidt is a rather odd TV character. He brings the handsomeness of a comedic straight man but his personality is stuck somewhere between Kramer from Seinfeld and Barney from How I Met Your Mother.

Between his OCD, past weight issues, narcissism and epic suit collection he has more idiosyncrasies then you could shake a stick at and certainly keeps the change flowing through the apartment’s Douchebag Jar with his colourful remarks.

According to recent episodes, after college Schmidt believed he was “too fat to work in marketing” so he took up a job selling Christmas trees, which he excelled at before reinventing himself physically and professionally.

Marketing Lessons

Just when it appears as though New Girl writers actually have no idea what marketing entails, they pepper in a grandiose glory statement that suggest they’ve had their fair share of KPI-watching.

To wit, here’s how Schmidt responds to Winston asking if he’s in “advertising,” which is of course only a small slice of the marketing pie:

“Advertising is a dog drinking beer, a fat moron falling down the stairs, a snot-nosed brat kicking his rapping grandpa in his testicles. I am in marketing, Winston, the backbone of capitalism. Without it, you’d be dead in two days.”

Such moments of Schmidt gold are sometimes buried in less deftly-handled dialogue, such as glib references to industry ageism which could definitely pack a bigger punch. But ultimately, this nugget of wisdom befits Schmidt, whose fleeting genius is reminiscent of those times you look at a co-worker on fire in a meeting and can’t help but high-five them for nailing it.

“We do the marketing EVERYWHERE! You’re about to see life at the speed of business” -Schmidt » Tweet this Schmidt gem «

Which TV marketers have inspired you? Any favorite quotes we missed? Let us know in the comments!

— Liesl Barrell

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About Liesl Barrell
Liesl Barrell is the co-founder and CEO of Third Wunder, a digital agency specializing in marketing for brands looking to change and disrupt how we do business around the world. In her spare time Liesl is a seasoned public speaker, writer and passionate community leader for women in technology. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter or in real life (if there is such a thing).
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