The ad men go mad for merchandising
Can 'Mad Men' exploit its commercial potential and still retain its stylish integrity? Sarah Hughes looks at the latest spin-offs
Monday 01 November 2010
Is it possible to spin merchandise off from a critically acclaimed television series without diluting its reputation? When the show in question is the advertising hit Mad Men, the answer would appear to be yes, albeit with some qualifications.
Recently, the 1960s-set drama has seen a number of merchandising tie-ins, from promotions at clothing store Banana Republic to a range of Barbie collectors dolls; now two new books promise a further glimpse into the lives of Mad Men's sharp-suited, smooth-talking men and women.
Sterling's Gold: Wit and Wisdom of An Ad Man, purporting to be the fictional memoir of Roger Sterling, the show's smooth-tongued senior partner, hits stores on 16 November, while Mad Men: the Illustrated World, a tongue-in-cheek compendium, is published in the UK on 25 November.
So far, so much to be expected – the publishing tie-in, after all, is a standard merchandising deal. That said, with a programme such as Mad Men, where the attention to detail is notorious, a lot rests on ensuring that the official product feels right. Show creator Matthew Weiner has admitted that he has rejected a number of proposals for licensed products because he "doesn't want the show to be exploited" while AMC's president, Charlie Collier, told The New York Times that as far as marketing was concerned the goal was to "do things in a way that is appropriate for Mad Men – high quality and sophisticated."
Yet it is also true that few shows are as adept at peddling nostalgia, whether intentionally or otherwise, as Mad Men. We've all fantasised about drinking cocktails with Don Draper, gossiping with Joan Holloway or sitting back and shooting the breeze with Roger Sterling.
Mad Men: The Illustrated World takes that nostalgia and plays with it, acknowledging the show's vision even as it builds something new. Created by the designer and illustrator Dyna Moe, The Illustrated World is a witty amalgamation of retro drawings, background information and knowing takes on the show's period feel.
Thus alongside tips on how to dance the Charleston, create the perfect bouffant and throw together such Betty Draper specialities as "gelatin salad", there are tongue-in-cheek pieces on how to spot whether your air hostess is ripe for a bit of Don Draper-style "Seduction at 20,000 Feet" and the duties of an efficient secretary.
Best of all, however, are Dyna Moe's drawings themselves. Whether it's Betty re-imagined smashing a chair in frustration in a clever pastiche of The Clash's London Calling album cover or a paper doll Joan who comes complete with numerous figure-hugging outfit changes, the illustrator's quirky humour shines through.
Lacking Dyna Moe's offbeat take on Weiner's World, Sterling's Gold: Wit and Wisdom of an Ad Man is an altogether more straightforward affair. Sadly for those hoping to learn more about Roger's past conquests, it's more stocking filler than stand-alone read.
Essentially a collection of the old charmer's bon mots – "Remember, when God closes a door, he opens a dress"; "Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons and eventually they hit you in the face" – Sterling's Gold is a pleasant enough diversion, but one which still leaves you wondering what the "real" memoirs might have revealed.
That said, while it lacks the charm of The Illustrated World, Sterling's Gold remains a cut above the standard TV cash-in. Mad Men fans can rest easy – the show might be hoping to persuade you to part with some cash this Christmas, but like Don Draper himself, they're managing to do so with a little bit of class and a lot of savoir-faire.
'Mad Men: The Illustrated World' by Dyna Moe is published on 25 November (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, £9.95). 'Sterling's Gold: Wit and Wisdom of an Ad Man' is published on 16 November (Grove/Atlantic Inc, £12.99). Series four of 'Man Men' is on Wednesdays at 10pm on BBC4
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