In mid-February, the creative folks at advertising agency Eric Mower + Associates got out their skinny ties, and vintage dresses, slicked their hair and teased their bouffants, and did something rather rare for an important client meeting – they went in costume.
It was a chance for an office rife with fans of 1960's era AMC drama Mad Men to capture some of that Madison Avenue style for themselves. They were at the South Carolina offices of Canadian paper company Domtar Corp. to suggest the company take a retro feel.
U.S. magazine Newsweek dug into its archives for this week's issue heralding the return of the popular TV show – replicating the magazine's look from half a century ago, and asking advertisers to do the same.
GEICO, whose creative team went through old ads to perfect the look of the ad and even the font used in its text, describes its mascot gekko as "a cool character" selling insurance for "your pad" or "that neat, sleek automobile." Estée Lauder found it a perfect fit, taking the opportunity to promote its Mad Men collection.
Some other advertisers chose to literally look to the past: British Airways chose to run an actual ad from the 1960s, when it was still marketing flights under its predecessor brand, B.O.A.C. Johnnie Walker Red ran a true vintage ad as well. And the Ad Council dug up its original 1960s Smokey Bear public service announcement, "only you can prevent wildfires."
Domtar decided to run an ad focusing on research it says shows that people read faster and retain more when reading on paper – and with old-style illustrations of a boy reading a comic book.
"As soon as we learned about [the vintage issue] we gave them a call," said Matt Ferguson, a managing partner with Eric Mower + Associates in South Carolina. "It's a reminder that the classics are still in vogue, and still relevant."
There was some hesitation, however, about putting Domtar's brand in an out-of-date context, given that it is marketing itself in an increasingly paperless world.
"That came up," said Lewis Fix, the company's vice-president of sustainable business and brand management. But he added, the ad was chosen because it stressed the ongoing use of paper. "There still remains not just a functional but an emotional connection, to paper and to books."
Mr. Fix also felt confident being part of the campaign because Newsweek is asking readers to go online to vote for their favourite vintage ads, and to discuss it on social media, giving the exercise a modern application.
The campaign comes as Newsweek struggles to make its print magazine more attractive to advertisers. Newsweek's ad pages fell 16.8 per cent in 2011 compared to the previous year, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.
"This issue is a brilliant idea," Mr. Ferguson said. And it gave his agency the chance to have a little fun: the pitch included hand-illustrated concepts for the ad, instead of the usual norm of a mock-up done through a computer program. And agency employees, many of whom are fans of the show, got to have a little fun with their client as well, even if it was difficult to find the brand of heavy pomade they needed for the men's hairstyles. "The biggest challenge," he said, "was finding a bottle of Vitalis."