Sad Men: Why Don Draper Hates Your Sponsorship Strategy

Today’s guest blogger is Nathan Anderson, Client Success Manager here at Patron Technology.

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK.”
—Don Draper

AMC’s critically acclaimed television series Mad Men recently returned from an 18 month hiatus, and I’m over the moon about it. Mad Men is my favorite TV show because it delicately reveals how we negotiate our lives through a constantly changing world. To help tell that story’s main theme, show creator Matthew Weiner chose the 1960s advertising industry as its primary metaphorical vehicle.

Can you believe anyone in 2012 likes this show?
It’s almost inconceivable to think someone could romanticize advertising. We have basically determined that ads are the cynical scourge of our modern media experiences. We can’t see an Internet page, watch a YouTube clip, use a mobile application, listen to a podcast, or watch a movie, TV show, or live art presentation without being “assaulted” by an ad. In fact, if you want a “better” media consumption experience your option is usually to pay more money and remove the ads.

This Internet scenario will probably sound familiar:

You’re reading an online article, and all of the sudden a full page advertisement about a car you may or may not want to purchase envelops your computer screen. You quickly look for the “X” to close it, and when you eventually fail, you reluctantly sustain the 30 seconds of video or flashy images, watch it disappear, and then gradually remember what in the world you were reading in the first place. At best, it wasted your time; at worst, you got frustrated and closed your browser without even seeing what you came there to see in the first place. One thing I bet didn’t happen: you ended up liking that advertised brand more.

Advertisements are here to stay, and when you subsidize your organization with advertising in your programs and inside (maybe even outside) your venue you help your bottom line. But what can you do to pull a Don Draper and make people happy after seeing them rather than indifferent or, worse, annoyed? Here’s one simple idea to understand yet challenging to execute:

Choose relevant partners.

I know. You’re absolutely thinking, “We will take money from anyone who offers it” or “In a good year  we can get one or two sponsors — we don’t have a choice.” And I will admit that both scenarios are totally understandable considering the economy today. But before you paper your next program with 131 untargeted ads, ask yourself this question: What are you giving up when you accept any and all advertising dollars? I would submit you’re giving up the chance to delight and surprise your patrons.

Just like with anything else that yields a great result, this is going to take some thoughtful work. Did a new music store just open in town? Are you performing a Corelli Sonata in your season? Those two are an obvious match. On your last arts patron survey did you discover that a majority of them like sewing as a hobby? Is there a fabric store in your town? If you went to that store and pitched this to them you have another clever match.

Every time you take in money from a sponsor you need to ask yourself if that brand association can make your patron base happy. If you decide to take that sponsor regardless, know that you’re potentially creating a valueless “pop-up ad” your patrons can’t remove with an “X.” Is there a palpable harm there? Maybe not. We’re all used to the barrage of ads. But if you were more thoughtful and targeted in your presentation of those ads, what would happen? I would take this question to your front of house speeches, lobby ads, and anything you plaster up in the restrooms or outside of your venue. If it’s not going to make them happy, it’s probably not worth doing.

Now, if all this sounds like un-executable nonsense…

…then at least try this: create programs (or patron experiences) without ads for your subscribers/members. If you can’t make your patrons happy with your ad campaigns, then create a way out of them. Although this sly move will anger Don Draper, Dick Whitman will absolutely approve.

Blog Bonus: Here’s a link to my all-time favorite ad (turns out…it makes me happy.)


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