Mad Men Buys The World A Coke

Mad Men, an American drama centred around a 1960s advertising agency, finally came to an end on Sunday after seven seasons in the US. But in a rather unexpected move, the final scene featured controversial ad man Don Draper finding the inspiration for the infamous Coca-Cola ‘Hilltop’ ad at a California spiritual retreat.

Mad Men

This native advertising for Coca-Cola (which they have promised they didn’t purchase) has torn up social media with fans trying to make sense of the final scene and wondering how much the iconic beverage brand paid to secure the final few seconds of this much loved drama. Personally, I’m not that surprised that a television show centred in an advertising agency ended with an ad . . . but that could just be me!

Anyway, whether viewers were surprised or not, it brings up a much bigger point. There comes a point where a brand will become so well-known and iconic that other people start to do your advertising for you.

Coca-Cola is definitely one of those brands. Within the beverage category, it is the most famous brand and has long had one of the most valuable brands globally alongside Apple and Google. But there comes a time when the brand will become so iconic that it transcends pure branding and becomes a pop-culture reference.

This is equally the best and most damaging thing that can happen to a brand!

On one hand, the brand has become such an iconic representation of society and has such high recognition that television shows, movies and general day-to-day language will incorporate it. Google is the perfect example because we no longer search for something online, we google it. And if you want your entertainment show to have relevance then your characters probably aren’t going to search Yahoo! or Bing. It is the same for Coke. The Coke brand brings relevance and relatability with audience members because at some point in life we have all had a Coke or been surrounded by people who love to drink Coke.

But it can also be the most damaging thing that can happen to a brand. Why? Because you have no control.

All of a sudden the brand values that marketing executives have worked tirelessly to build up could be dashed with one viral association. If your brand represents happiness, life and fun and all of a sudden gets associated with a viral clip about a funeral due to an unfortunate product placement . . . well there aren’t enough jokes about putting the ‘fun’ in ‘funeral’ that will get the brand out of that one.

Coke wouldn’t be too worried about this issue because its associations are so innately conveyed across all their advertising and they have a tight rein on their brand but they should keep their eye on something else. Forced product placement.

Seeing brands too often in entertainment can cause a distrust to develop between the consumer and the product. No longer are these appearances because the product is popular, the audience member begins to think that these appearances are being bought. And it is a very easy jump to feel that your loyalty is being bought – which is not something that today’s consumers respond to particularly well.

Coca-Cola would have been over the moon about their inclusion in this final episode of Mad Men. They reached a couple of million people and developed an association with a television show that this audience loves. But at the same time they will also be watching their polls very closely to find the point when enough is enough because that can spell the end for a brand. Even one that is as powerful and long-lasting as Coke!