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Will the old Mad Men magic work for Tina Brown’s new Newsweek?

Creatives, sharpen your pencils. Tina Brown, editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, has a new challenge for you.

Well, not ‘new’ perhaps; more “retro”. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hone those copy skills which you might, if you were extremely lucky, have learned at the knee of David Abbott or, very distantly indeed, Bill Bernbach (ob. 1982).

The brief? To turn a whole edition of Newsweek into a celebration of Mad Men’s fifth season premiere, on March 25th, with 60s-themed ads.

It’s difficult to know who’s been commercially cuter here, with this ‘life imitating art’ fest: Brown, who needs to boost flagging Newsweek ad revenue; or Matthew Weiner, creator and executive producer of the critically acclaimed but hardly money-spinning Liongate Television series, who needs to give the long-delayed fifth series the best uplift possible.

It’s nearly a year and a half now since Don Draper and his chums last graced our screens, mainly thanks to a protracted dispute between Weiner and Mad Men’s TV sponsor, AMC Network. Last March, Weiner eventually emerged with a new $30m contract which, reportedly, will guarantee us another three series (now, alas, only to be shown in the UK on Sky Atlantic).

For Brown, the hope is that the March 19 Mad Men edition will provide the crowning glory to a low-profile turnaround for Newsweek. Ad pages dropped 17 per cent in 2011, but the magazine has experienced a steady quarterly recovery since her well-received redesign, launched on March 14 last year.

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Of course, that’s not what she’s saying in public:

Newsweek was very much on the cultural forefront at the time of the show. It covered the events that are so much of the background for the show’s drama – the burgeoning civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the Vietnam War. That was Newsweek’s cutting-edge beat and its flourishing journalistic subject. So it seemed like a wonderful marriage in a sense to take that and apply it to the magazine, to make the magazine an homage to the period.

As opposed to today when the magazine does… what exactly? Maybe it’s not such a smart idea to remind people of its past glories after all.

No matter. Here’s a great opportunity to dust down those copywriting skills. And this, by way of inspiration, is what you’ll be up against. A bit of Bernbach’s immortal VW Beetle advertising. And, from the same agency DDB, the scarcely less famous ‘We try harder’ for Avis. No tobacco advertising, though. Historical authenticity doesn’t stretch so far as to allow imitations of Lucky Strike.

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About Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith is one of the most incisive and knowledgeable commentators on global marketing. He was a long-time editor of Marketing Week during the period when it was the UK's leading marketing, media and advertising specialist publication. Visit Stuart Smith Blog.
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