In "Blowing Smoke" the latest and second to last episode of Season 4 for AMC's Mad Men, Don Draperimage throws a curve ball, not only at the public and clients, but at his own firm, when he writes a full-page ad in the New York Times divorcing himself and his business from big tobacco. He faces ridicule from competitors, skepticism from clients and hysteria from his own partners.
Of course from our vantage point this will turn out to be a brilliant about face that will save Draper's young agency. It's the birth of cause marketing or what Shelly Lazarus of Ogilvy Mather Worldwide would call "big ideal" advertising. However, for our purposes -- what's most interesting are the personality strengths and weaknesses exposed by Draper's dramatic shift in business strategy.
Pete Campbell's reaction is fearful. "It's suicide! It's insane! How the hell could you do this?" Cunning and Machiavellian, Campbell also sees Draper's truth-telling as a betrayal and expects everyone else to see it that way. "Don't you realize the clients are going to think that you can turn on them at any minute?"
Lane Pryce, the emotionally-subjugated Englishman voices his indignation that he was not "consulted." While aging Bert Cooper's first and loudest complaint is that his name was left off the letter. "You humiliated us by not putting our names on it. You left us with this hypocrisy!"
The irony of course is that Draper is exposing the great hypocrisy of selling something that kills you. Bert Cooper can't see that and even accuses Draper of the cynicism that in reality, Cooper himself espouses, "You're cynical and craven and tobacco put a roof over your head and it fed your children."
Our anti-hero is certainly jaded. He hasn't given up smoking himself. And his public condemnation of tobacco comes only after losing the Lucky Strike account. Nevertheless, his move seems to be, at least in part, a derivative of deep soul searching-through long distance swims and diary entries.
Indeed, the first draft of his letter to the Times is written on the same small, spiral notebook that has held his internal dialogue. This kind of practical work is one way to build up your autonomy, which is one of Abraham Maslow's 19 traits of the most admirable, creative and joyous people.
We don't yet know how much change is going on within Don Draper. One hint that he is evolving morally, is that even after Campbell's histrionics, Draper covers Campbell's $50,000 contribution to the company.
Also reflecting his new moral compass, Draper tosses out the personal aside that he "slept last night for the first time in a month." For the man who hides behind a war hero's identity, coming clean on tobacco feels good. His new secretary, (whom he's already had sexually), applauds his guts, "I love that you stand for something… It feels different around here."
And here is the great lesson of this episode, perhaps the whole series--when it feels different it very often is different. Or at least it soon will be. Our feelings are not just personal reactions to others and events. Sometimes they are indicators of future shifts in attitudes and mass behavior. Sometimes, they are arrows pointing us in the direction we should take. I'm reminded of Doctor Andrew Weil's choice to move to Tucson in the early 1980's simply because he liked the place after his SUV broke down and stranded him there for a week.
The problem is that too often we ignore our gut reactions and the power of moral behavior. In 1964, Americans not only ignored, they repressed their feelings and their sense of injustice so much, that later in the decade, that anger exploded individually and culturally. In Mad Men, we can feel the women's movement, the civil rights era, the sexual revolution, and the anti-war movement coming.
The genius of Mad Men is not just that we get a window into a zeitgeist that we lived and now reject, it's also that humankind's universal need for authenticity, justice and expression is beautifully portrayed by Mad Men characters. In "Blowing Smoke" Don Draper is finding himself and in the process he is affirming the power of truth, courage and feelings.
Check out Donald Van De Mark's ongoing series on the 19 Personality Traits of the Best Human Beings
Donald Van de Mark has interviewed hundreds of leaders in business and politics including: Andrew Weil, MD, former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, Jack Welch, Starbucks' Howard Schultz and Intel's Andy Grove, in his nearly 3 decades as a correspondent and anchor at CNN, CNBC and public television. He integrates practical tips from these great leaders to provide a riveting motivational speech on the personality traits of successful people. Donald is also the host of the corporate training videos,The Wisdom of Caring Leaders and The Wisdom of Teams.
His new book, The Good Among the Great,19 Traits of the Most Admirable, Creative and Joyous People, will be available for purchase in April 2011.