Being Don Draper

If you’re a fan of Mad Men, who wouldn’t want to be Don, even if just for one wheeling dealing afternoon or rollercoaster nocturnal session? What’s begun to happen with fictional characters on Twitter in 2008/2009 is heading in this, and other equally interesting directions.

Mad Men vs me at a Mad Men party

Mad Men vs me at a Mad Men party - courtesy of Laura Brunow on Flickr

It kind of started when digital planner and strategist Paul Isakson donned the guise of early 1960’s adman Don Draper on Twitter in the summer of 2008,  unbeknownst to Mad Men programme makers AMC. As of writing Don/Isakson now has 8,880 followers. All the other Mad Men characters are on Twitter too (my current fave is Roger Sterling). From what I know, they too are mostly unofficial.

Isakson came clean as to his ownership of the @don_draper account in November and to their credit it seems AMC didn’t demand that Isakson hand it over. Now the chance to be Don (or at least that particular Don, for there are now multiple Dons on Twitter) is up for grabs – and the deadline is today.

Whoever is picked – by a combination of a forthcoming audience vote on the finalists, laced with Paul Isakson’s editorial judgement – will be Don Draper on Twitter for the remainder of Season 3 which began transmitting 16th August in the US. What’s more, if folks don’t rate the new Don’s performance, he can be fired and replaced by the runner-up at any point during the season.

I’m not even going to go into the aptness of all this given Don’s very particular backstory, because if you haven’t yet followed Mad Men that would be a heinous spoiler.

Looking at his blog post today, I’m not sure Isakson got enough entries (I’m guessing some went via the back door of email and the side entrance of tweetbacks). But as an exercise in crowdsourcing an audition, and expanding the kudos Mad Men accrues by layering multiple, more permeable Dons around actor John Hamm’s TV incarnation, it’s a Stars In Their Eyes/X Factor mashup for the transmedia generation.

Of course it’s all somewhat jarring for Mad Men fans not in the USA, but y’all know these transmission lags are a major reason why TV torrents are hugely popular in the UK and why the old school TV distribution model is declining.

Concerns of brandjacking and Twitter-squatting aside – and increasingly these concepts seem hugely over-simplified if not redundant – unofficial is often good if not better. Characters are being liberated, authorship is be re-shaped and unforeseen talents are taking the reins. Simples  :-)

In fact the Twittersphere is now awash with fictional personae. I’ve already been following “Gene Hunt” from the BBC’s Ashes To Ashes for a few months. Daft but bolly good value.

Peep Show is going down the same road, with Mark getting the most interest. All of which feels oddly natural given that a year ago it would have been freakish; and a choice counterpoint to the dreaded real-world insistence that we must “be who we say we are online”, an exhortation that incites me to commit unspeakable acts.

In short, it’s exciting territory and ripe for more quality excursions. To take a very random and subjective sample of arresting characters, imagine if you could have been, or be able to converse with:

John Rebus in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels

Teddy Hoffman or Richard Cross from Murder One

Renton, Begbie or Spud or from Trainspotting – chapters of which were first published in the groundbreaking Edinburgh-headquartered Rebel Inc magazine.

Henry (“helicopters!”), Karen (“Henrrrry!”), or Tommy (“guns”) from Goodfellas

Pembleton or Munch from Homicide: Life On The Street

Bridget Gregory in The Last Seduction

Caleb Temple in American Gothic

Patrick Bateman in American Psycho

(Rita Hayworth as) Gilda in Gilda

Nick Carraway or Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby.

All so moreish…

Elsewhere this month author Philippa Gregory (working with digital agency Blonde) created a Twitter feed for the main character Elizabeth Woodville in her latest novel The White Queen – all the better, you see, to reinterpret the story through a series of tweets in the week prior to the book’s publication.

For one week only? Hmm, not a lot of time to become really hooked or intrigued you’d think. But no, with very little fanfare she garnered 700+ followers, and the feedback in @ messages was equally potent from numerous viewpoints: the author herself, marketer and publisher intelligence gathering, online PR of course, and practitioners of transmedia generally.

After the first week of this project, we were able to read the tweets in more traditional narrative order on this Flash site. Analysed per-tweet, the quality is variable but from a birds-eye view the concept’s overall execution is quite beguiling.

A central challenge for The White Queen project lay in matching the quality of the source material, and in the transition of perspective and literary skill from print page to ambient digital flow. A big ask, but sometimes (if not this time) the Twitter offshoot is even better than the original fabrication.

In that vein (to lower the tone for a minute and head over to present-day adland), while I don’t set much store by comparison websites, I’ve lately followed CompareTheMeerkat.  As always with creative marketing, the risk is that we’re merely delighted, and this doesn’t translate to sales. But that’s nothing new, and as part the perennial tug of love between advertising, marketing and branding, largely immaterial to this discussion. What’s compelling is the character and @Alexsandr_orlov is a highly diverting creation.

This particular clutch of character extensions are also textbook transmedia shortcuts. Is it just me, or do you ever get tired just thinking about all those Facebook pages connected to the YouTube channel connected to the SEO strategy connected to the website connected to the email sign-up form connected to the mobile campaign, etc, etc, ad infinitum..? All these rinky dink agencies trying oh-so relentlessly to herd our weary eyeballs round some archetypal loop of media integration. Like it was all orchestrated for some slick presentation designed to wow lazy executives at whatever new media conference, ugh.

Oh no, wait, what we should *really* be doing is aggregating them all in FriendFeed or one of its ilk for a full-fat, 360, planned to the nth degree social media experience. Oh, Facebook just bought Friendfeed, umm, well then just wait for 12-18 months, add semantic web – and bada bing! What, the semantic web thingy will take at least 5 more years you say? No, just stop it. It really doesn’t work like that.

Instead, how about we park the whole 360 shizzle, look at the shortcuts that are working some magic and think about the implications? Being @Don_Draper and its Kaufmanesque cohorts are entry points to the future of storytelling. If fictional prototypes like these are the prelude to a new era of character development and narrative interplay, I can’t wait to see what unfolds over the next decade.

5 responses to “Being Don Draper

  1. Excellent article! Brandjacking / Twitter-squatting is an important subject. Do we need domain name style bodies like ICANN to police usernames on social networks? Or perhaps some kind of online verification system?

    CompareTheMeerkat is genius IMOH, I’m amazed at how many people talk about it day to day. But I do feel that more could be done given the character’s new-found status.

  2. Thanks a lot for the feedback Martin.

    Brandjacking / social media squatting is certainly a serious issue from the POV of users being mis-led or even robbed; but as the Isakson case (and many others) demonstrate, openness and flexibility can have huge benefits, and these can flow in many directions.

    Regarding CompareTheMeerkat, I saw recently that it was conceived by VCCP – not drunk ad men as PaidContent teases in the story, but a highly talented crew in a mid-sized London agency…
    http://paidcontent.co.uk/article/419-confirmed-compare-the-meerkat-was-devised-by-drunk-ad-men/

    This recent post from VCCP Head of Strategy & Innovation Amelia Torode has more details on the results of it all.

  3. Thanks for these links.

    “more influential than Hilary Clinton”

    “All competitors have put their advertising up for pitch since Aleksandr’s arrival”

    “nearly 1,000 people have signed his petition to get the word “seemples” (simple) into the Oxford English Dictionary”

    Fantastic! I wonder whether Aleksandr Orlov has any political aspirations?…

  4. Don is the reason I watch Mad Men. I recently wrote a related post on my site on a related theme. Check it out:
    http://myboys3.com/2009/11/12/not-being-don-draper/

  5. Pingback: » The Crowd Is Wise (When It’s Focused)

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