I once heard Matthew Weiner (creator of Mad Men) interviewed on National Public Radio.  In reviewing Don Draper’s life, Weiner made a potent comment.  He emphasized that as the Mad Men series continues, the audience would continue to be clearly subjected to the truth that Don Draper’s decisions always have consequences.

As Don Draper continued to make tragic, morally depraved decisions, each one of those decisions would render negative consequences.  The consequences would not automatically be immediate, but arrive they would, in time.

Much of what passes for entertainment today shows people making all kinds of bad choices without any negative consequences.  I found it refreshing to hear Weiner highlight the truth that decisions always have consequences for good or for bad.

One could argue Don Draper made many good decisions professionally more so than personally.  One out of two isn’t so bad, eh?  Nevertheless, if we are concerned with living our lives holistically, then should we not be making good decisions both professionally and personally?

In the business world today, every decision we make has consequences.  Sometimes those consequences involve merely the routine, mundane clicks in the cogs of the wheels of our industry.  Other times those consequences involve the organization’s reputation, our integrity, and people’s lives.

Every decision you or I make today will have consequences.  This was true for Don Draper too.  But the good news is, we don’t have to make the same decisions Don Draper made.

We can choose different consequences.

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As Mad Men’s fifth season launches, we are again faced with the ongoing advertising exploits and antics of Mr. Don Draper, the “ad king.”  From the program’s inception, I found much embedded in the ad king’s name.

The advertising industry is often criticized and mocked.  That does not negate its complex efficacy.  Perhaps the average person sees the advertising industry as an attempt to dress up products and services in such a way they become enticing to the consumer.

Could we not say then, as an advertising executive, Don Draper is one who drapes products and services to appeal to consumers?  That draping can also imply concealing.  Many consumers claim they were deceived by advertising at one time or another.  And how many advertisements turned out to be false?

I find it an amusing and ironic play on words that in even using the name, “Don Draper,” the lead character had actually stolen that identity from a fellow soldier killed in action.  Upon his return to the United States, he assumed that name to cover up his past.

Finally, think about Don Draper’s morality.  As the series progressed and I observed Draper’s rampant infidelity, and the general manner in which he used and abused women, I thought of another aspect of his name.  I believe his name has been misspelled due to a slight punctuation error.  Indeed, I contend his correct name is Don D. Raper.

Your word is your bond.  Or is it?  It depends on who you are.  For a person of integrity, your word is your bond.  Your word means something because your name means something.

Tragically, for Don Draper, his word is not always his bond.  His name exposes him.  In observing Don Draper’s behaviors, I’m afraid he painfully lives up to his name in more ways than one.  In Don Draper, we find another all-too-common example of a person living his life without integrity.

My challenge, personally and professionally, to you and to me, is that we would live our lives anchored to a moral compass.  Our words must count for something because our name does.

What’s in a name?  You cannot decide for anyone else, but you can decide for you.  I can decide for me.

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As the fifth season of Mad Men opened last week, many people are reflecting on the terrific job that series has done in bringing the awe of the 1960s ad age to life.  Never before in the history of television has a series so thoroughly captured the nitty-gritty, wild, whacky, world of advertising during that turbulent, sometimes tragic, decade.

Newsweek magazine has dedicated a special double issue cover story to the celebration of Mad Men and advertising (“Welcome Back to 1965” 3/26/12 and 4/2/12).  In so doing, Newsweek has produced many exceptionally insightful articles drawing truths from Mad Men and shedding more light on the advertising business yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  The Newsweek issue addresses the 1960s culture with all its attendant volatility.  The highlights and the lowlights of the day are studied.

For anyone wanting to understand Mad Men and its context better, I highly recommend that Newsweek issue.  And just for fun, to put the reader back into the 1960s, Newsweek has retrofitted the entire special double issue to the advertising and design of that day.

Because that Newsweek issue does such a magnificent job, several of my blog posts in the coming days will engage its contents.  As always in this blog, my aim is to speak to business or business-related events or truths.  And believe me, having read the entire Newsweek special double issue cover story, we have much to explore.

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Recently a federal microbiologist coined the term, “pink slime.”  It refers to the lean, finely textured beef that is extracted from the small bits of meat and bone left over during various steps in normal meat processing.  The microbiologist was grossed out by the appearance and hence the unflattering name.

Long story short—Pink slime is not bad for you; it is good for you.  Pink slime represents increased efficiency and effectiveness in extracting the full value of the meat via its processing.

What this situation so well illustrates is the power of words and the ensuing power of people’s perceptions.  When I initially heard about pink slime, I pictured all kinds of gross, dirty, toxic materials mixed into my hamburger.  Yet the more I researched the topic, the more I found that was not the truth.

Great power resides in names, labels, titles, and terms.  Sometimes that power works productively.  Sometimes that power wastes everyone’s time and resources.  For good or for bad, public relations people know this all too well, and so should the rest of us.

Words have meaning.  Words are powerful.  Nevertheless, instead of immediately relying on the initial impact of the words, we are wise to reserve judgment.  Sometimes words are served up with a spin.  By seeking the truth behind the words, we arrive at reality.

Where’s the beef?  Right where it has always been.

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The March 26, 2012, Dilbert comic strip gave me quite the belly laugh.

Dilbert explains to his pointy haired boss a competitor has purchased 10,000,000 copies of their software.  The reason?  The competitor plans to give them away free, anticipating the software’s poor quality will drive each recipient to buy the competitor’s software.  Dilbert explains his company has unwittingly become part of the competitor’s “Freemium Strategy.”  Now that’s a marketing plan!

We’ve all heard of “loss leaders” to get customers in the door, but this one takes it to a whole new level.

Think about it!  Can you imagine buying massive quantities of your competitor’s product, freely giving that product to your prospective customers, and then reaping the reward as they respond by willingly purchasing your company’s product?

Can you imagine being the sales rep who receives that call?

SALES REP: So you want to purchase 10,000,000 units?

CUSTOMER: Oh, absolutely!  How fast can you ship them?

SALES REP: Well, I’m sure we can have them to your location within a couple days.  And hey, with the size of this order, we’ll just go ahead and cover the shipping for you.

CUSTOMER: Wonderful!

SALES REP: Well, it’s the least we can do for a great customer like you.  So, you really love our product, don’t you?

CUSTOMER: Oh, yes.  Your product is our cash cow!  We are going to give them out free to all our prospects.  After they experience your product, they will be begging to pay us for our version.  Thanks again!  [Click]

Although this is obviously a joke, as is so often the case with humor, it derives its punch from the grain of truth.  Dilbert is funny because the outrageous humor contains that grain of truth.

Think about all those free pieces of software or free online services you have willingly received.  In many cases, the free version slowly whets your appetite for the more full-throttled version.  Cha-ching.  The company makes a new sale and you’ve just been converted to a paying customer.

Think about all those times you chose to purchase one company’s product or service, but after experiencing it, you decided to switch to a competitor’s product or service.  As consumers and as business owners, our experience predisposes us to action.  One action might be to stick with an excellent product or service.  Alternatively, because of our bad experience, another action might be to switch to the competitor.

Well, now I’m waiting for the day when a company does try the “Freemium Strategy.”  Hey, it just might work!  When it does, you’ll hear me laughing.

And I have to confess, my laughter will be tinged with just a hint of admiration.

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