Don Draper’s Secret Weapon

After much suffering, Don finds himself.

It’s over. Mad Men has ridden into the sunset, and what a glorious ending it was: on a sun-drenched hilltop as people of all nationalities connect with ice cold bottles of Coca-Cola and sing joyfully. The story ends with this iconic commercial, created by Don Draper, a mad man born as Dick Whitman, who had a backstory not even Dickens would wish on a character.

Dick (Don) was born to a prostitute mother who died bringing him into the world. His father, her john, beat him regularly–– until the old man was taken out by a horse with a kick to his head. Little Dickie was raised by his stepmother in a brothel. She prostituted herself to a brother-in-law to help pay the rent as the teenage Dick watched through a keyhole. Prepare the analyst’s couch.

Adult Dick goes to fight in Korea, accidentally blows up his commanding officer, Lt. Don Draper, who was soon to end his tour of duty. Dick switches dog tags with the dead Draper, assumes his identity, returns to the States and becomes a fur salesman. Eventually, he works his way into advertising through pluck, persistence and innate talent.

Whew. Don Draper is a deeply flawed character (how could he not be, given his past?). He’s a deserter, womanizer, liar, booze hound and absentee father. He has trouble with relationships. He’s a lost soul, always in search of the next thing. So what accounts for his meteoric success in the advertising business?


Don is seriously flawed, but he recognizes the need for connection in all of us. He understands that we all have unmet wants and unfulfilled desires. “Itches,” he calls them. He sees his job as finding ways of framing a product’s features in fulfillment of human needs. Don Drapers uses advertising to scratch itches.

And he does so brilliantly.

Mad Men explored the human condition through the prism of this troubled character. Don and his supporting cast were complex individuals, like real human beings. They are interesting people living in interesting times as society is changing, conventions and mores are questioned. Authority itself is questioned.

Don Draper, ad man/mad man, is able to do his voodoo because he understands human frailties. He knows we all seek love and connection and we all crave attention.

Through the many years of trouble and turmoil in his own life, he finally comes at peace with himself and his purpose in the world. He buys the world a Coke.

Thanks, Don/Dick.

Marketers, how will your product or service satisfy a human itch?