3 things we can learn from Don Draper’s carousel pitch

I’ve been working on some new workshop material for pitching creative work (or pitching pure ideas instead of products). Coincidentally, I’m also rewatching my all-time favourite TV show, Mad Men. I’m surprised by how relevant this TV show actually is for what I’m currently working on, and I wanted to share my take on one of the many great pitches Don Draper (the main character) makes toward his accounts.

For those who haven’t watched Mad Men: it’s a TV-show set in ‘60 America and centers around Don Draper, Creative Director for an advertising agency. 

THE GREATEST PITCH IN MAD MEN

The pitch I was drawn to the most for analysis is when Don Draper pitches the ‘Carousel’ to Kodak. The Carousel is a slide projector and was a best-seller from the mid ‘60s to mid ‘90s. If you haven’t seen the pitch already, check out the 3-min video here. There are a couple of things we can learn from Don Draper:

1. He uses storytelling

Point of connection or ‘lift-off point’: “Have you found a way to fit ‘the wheel’ in? It’s not really something people automatically connect to technology,” is what the client asks when they enter the room. This is the point Don needs to address before lifting off toward his idea. Don takes this quite literally: the first word of his pitch is ‘technology’.

Describing the status quo: He continues with describing what we call in story-telling theory ‘the status quo’ – “new is the most important thing in advertising” because “technology creates an itch, your product can serve as a lotion”. The purpose of this is to make your client ‘nod in agreement’ and make them an ally: this increases the likelihood of them accepting what is to come.

Creating a curiosity gap: Don almost literally says, “but what if we could make a deeper connection with the customer than just ‘new?’” which creates curiosity in the clients – they want to know what he means. Than he continues saying that a deeper connection can be achieved through “nostalgia, it’s delicate but potent”. Boom, this spikes curiosity and therefore serves as the perfect introduction to his slideshow. “Sweetheart”…

Describing the solution: He then uses the slideshow to describe this idea in further detail (called a ‘manifesto’ by most advertising agencies) – how can we connect the name of the product to this powerful feeling of nostalgia, thus using the name of the product to connect with customers on a deeper level?

2. HE USES THE ‘DISCOVERY’ TECHNIQUE TO CONNECT WITH HIS AUDIENCE

An idea is not just an idea; it’s a certain way of connecting different pieces of information together. Look at how Don carefully connects different pieces of information to conclude that the slide projector is ‘not a spaceship, but a time machine. A device you can use to travel back in time or forward in time”. “It’s not a wheel, it’s a …” If you would pause the video here and ask people to guess the word that Don will say next, I bet a fair amount of people might actually say ‘carousel’.

This is what we call the ‘discovery’ technique: it means that you as a presenter connect different pieces of information in such a way that the audience feels as if they thought of your solution even before you said it out loud. This has a significant impact on the likelihood that your audience will accept your idea – the audience feels like they ‘own’ it because they discovered the idea themselves.

3. HE MAKES IT PERSONAL AND RELATABLE

This is just a very obvious, but important observation: he makes it extremely personal and relatable – he shows family life, love, happy moments, taking the audience “back to a place where they know they will be loved”. It changes Don’s image from a macho salesman to a loving husband and caring father – a character everyone in the room can relate to.

In conclusion, Mad Men is a great show, full of clever conversations and awesome pitches! Watch it if you haven’t already, enjoy!