It Turns Out Don Draper Really Was the Real Thing (a Mad Men Reflection)

by Lauren Paige Kennedy
Originally Published: 
John Hamm as Don Draper enjoying the sun with his eyes closed with the sea in the background

So Don Draper just wanted to buy the world a Coke. He’s the real thing, after all.

After seven glorious seasons of watching Don’s story arc unfold, we finally have our answer—and so does he. The downward trajectory of the man in the sharp suit plummeting between tall buildings as advertising billboards fly by wasn’t a prediction of his dire fate. It was a nod to how far he might fall before picking himself up—because Dick Whitman always lands on his feet.

His fellow journeymen and woman have traveled, too. Series creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner did his characters proud, and pleased us fans in the process, with their interwoven conclusions. There were tears, to be sure. The final phone call between Don and his first love Birdie cut deeply, and to the quick.

And speaking of the telephone, why did Weiner, who both wrote and directed this episode, posit every meaningful exchange through the other end of a receiver? Is he saying we all hide, just as Don has done, from our true emotions? That we can’t handle “the real thing” face to face? Consider not only his call to dying Betty, but to daughter Sally and protégé Peggy, too. And Stan finally admitted his feelings for his copy chief not on bended knee but from the safe distance of the art department. Even Joan and Peggy, in an earlier scene, reconnected by dialing with their fingers; their in-person meeting didn’t go nearly as well. If only Mad Men devotees could accept long distance as an option.

For Mad Men is no more, and that distance is upon us. As Sally Draper assumes the role of grownup even as, like her father, she becomes something of an orphan herself, we can only imagine what the future has in store for this child of the turbulent ’60s. What we do know, however, is how much this series has meant to us, and how bittersweet it is to see the final credits roll.

To that end, we present a tribute to our favorite Mad Men—and women—in advertising taglines. Because we suspect they wouldn’t want it any other way.

Donald Draper/Dick Whitman

Coca-Cola: “It’s the Real Thing”

Despite his dual identity, Don Draper was the real thing: He was original. He definitely went down easily. He was universally desired, especially when things got hot. In early 1970—just when Don was finally offered some creative input on the elusive Coca-Cola account—this all-American soft drink’s iconic tagline brilliantly reflected Don’s journey on the show. In the finale, he may have temporarily disappeared to a spiritual retreat in California, making us wonder if he might drop in and drop out for good, or maybe just jump from an ocean cliff. As the series took its final bow with the most famous Coke jingle of them all, the soft drink’s current tagline, “Make It Happy,” seems plenty apropos, too, for TV’s ad man who all but invented reinvention.

Peggy Olson

Snapple: “Made from the Best Stuff on Earth”

Snapple is a New York-born product, as was Brooklyn-made Peggy Olson. Fans have long loved both her snappy copy and how she snapped at all who crossed her path. Whether challenging Stan to a game of strip poker when she first met him (or insulting him in the final episode before professing to love him); standing up to her mentor-boss-friend Don in “The Suitcase”; or strutting into McCann-Erickson holding an erotic painting with a lit cigarette dangling from her fiercely red lips—a sly nod to her first-ever tagline, “A Basketful of Kisses”—Peggy was always a drink best served cool.

Roger Sterling

Alka-Seltzer: “I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing”

When you’ve overindulged, as Roger was wont to do with alcohol, married Quebecois women, and agency takeovers, a little Alka-Seltzer was—and is—just what the doctor ordered. But like Roger, who always came on strong and effervescent, at some point it simply stops working. Which leads to more binge drinking, followed by another round of plop, plop, fizz, fizz—oh, what a relief it is. Now: Rest and repeat.

Joan Holloway

Ford Mustang: “Presenting the Unexpected …”

Those lines. Those curves. And everyone wanted to drive her. In 1965, when this ad first appeared announcing the hottest ride on the road, Ford’s tagline for its new muscle car could easily have referred to Joan, who throughout the series showed true grit and get-up-and-go in unexpected ways at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, McCann-Erickson and beyond. And just like Mustang’s current tagline, “Go Further,” she steered herself into the sunset, right past Richard and miles beyond where anyone thought she might aim, her very own business.

Pete Campbell

Morgan Stanley: “One Client at a Time”

Pete came from old money. His family was a New York institution and still inspired twentieth-century spats about ancient, Mayflower-esque murders. A quintessential salesman, he cultivated his relationships—and the width of his lapels—by reflecting the times. Still, when it came to safely investing for the future, he fell back on solid ground, which is why he, ex-wife Trudy and daughter Tammy bet the bank on stock options, a private jet and a fresh start in Kansas.

Betty Draper

Virginia Slims: “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby”

Some might argue Peggy Olson deserved this tagline, with her evolution from nervous secretary to badass copy chief or maybe even Don’s second wife, Megan, who went from sweet assistant to Hollywood starlet. But I’m giving it to Betty, and not only because she smoked herself into an early grave. She started the show as Don’s literal model-wife, then endured the psychiatrist’s couch, her husband’s casual infidelity, fat suits, political posing and an enraged daughter who registered her every mistake (and, boy, she made a lot of them). Betty ended the series a bit older and wiser, and maybe the most Zen character of them all as she faced her imminent, unstoppable demise with wide-eyed, mostly dry-eyed acceptance.

Bert Cooper

Old Spice: “The Mark of a Man”

Old Bert Cooper made everyone near him better. Maybe not smell better—given his shoeless feet padding around the SCDP offices—but his loyalty to his talented staff was legendary. He refused to care one whit about Don’s dodgy past after Pete tattled that the faux ad exec he’d come to know was actually named Dick. Later, the grizzled authority firmly held his vote back against giving his star creative director the ax, even as the other partners circled around Don for the kill. Only Bert’s sudden death on the night of the moon landing marooned Don in outer space, or at least to advertising purgatory. Still, Bert’s most lasting mark was his show-stopping swan song, “The Best Things in Life Are Free.”

Ken Cosgrove

Timex: “It Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking”

Ken was repeatedly asked to eat Pete’s shit and like it. Later, he was shot in the face on a hunting expedition by an automotive asshole—and he still came back for more, this time with an eye patch to cover the injury he took for the team. When Roger fired him in the seventh season after SCDP merged with McCann-Erickson, fans thought Ken was finished, finally put out to pasture to write certainly bad sci-fi fiction. But he knew what time it was: His moment to hit up his retiring father-in-law for a job at Dow Chemical to become Pete’s worst nightmare, a client.

Megan Draper

Playtex Cross-Your-Heart-Bra: “Lifts and Separates”

Joan Holloway may be the gal with the hourglass figure, but it’s the second stunning Draper wife, Megan, who’s the tits. Why? Not only did she truly adore Don—and I believe he sincerely loved her—she long held up his spirits, even when he was soaked in them. Refusing to relinquish her own dreams, she boosted herself from a marriage that she finally realized could never work, then separated from this tall, dark, handsome boob to pursue an acting career in California.

Harry Crane

Oscar Mayer: “I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Wiener”

Technically, this is a jingle, not a tagline. But since Harry’s always been a wiener—turns out, some things don’t need to be wished for—we’ll ask that you overlook this fine detail.

Lane Pryce

Apple: “Think Different”

This is the tagline I wish for Lane, a fan favorite who hung himself after battling financial ruin back in season five. Lane, don’t overextend the firm’s budgets. Don’t spend your bonus before you get it. Don’t cow to the Brits who made you feel small. Most important, don’t end it all with a rope in your SCDP office. Think different, Lane. Please.

Dr. Faye Miller

Starkist Tuna: “Sorry, Charlie. Starkist wants tuna that tastes good, not tuna with good taste.”

Poor Faye, last seen in season three. She thought Don loved her because they were equals. But after Betty, he could only taste commitment with a woman who showed him how well she’d mother his kids, something Faye couldn’t quite stomach.

Michael Ginsberg

Schlotzsky’s Deli: “Funny name. Serious Sandwich.”

Born in a Nazi concentration camp, Ginsberg’s genius as a writer is revealed more than two decades later within the confines of Manhattan’s glitzy skyscrapers. Witty, acerbic, blunt, and wise, this character’s depth was seriously stacked—until he became unlayered with the introduction of the agency’s cheesy new computer. Then, sadly, all laughter ceased.

Stan Rizzo

Skoal: “Always There in a Pinch”

Oh, Stan. You were our favorite pot-smoking art director who dressed like a bearded Fred Jones from Scooby Doo. I’ve adored you from your first appearance in the series, back when you still looked like a clean-cut Beach Boy and gave Peggy a load of misogynistic shit just for being a girl. But you grew as a man as the years went by, and as a BFF, too, to our beloved copy chief, who leaned on you like a life partner in-proxy. For Peggy, you were always up for a good chew, even in the middle of the night. And you were always, always there for her. So when you finally professed your love for her in the final episode, it felt so very right.

Henry Francis

Prudential: “Get a Piece of the Rock”

He worked for Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and he was solid as a sedimentary mass for Betty Draper, who definitely needed someone with a firm foundation after enduring Don’s shifty ways. Even in the end, Henry bolstered his beautiful wife after her terminal cancer diagnosis. Still, his bitter tears over losing her revealed how soft he truly was.

Ted Chaough

Chiffon Margarine: “You Think It’s Butter, But It’s Not … “

Does Ted love Peggy? Or his wife? Or his new girlfriend? Does he want to live in California? Or New York? Does he want to quit advertising for good? Or play the game forever? Does he love Don? Or loathe him? Ted is never quite what he appears, yet his words are so convincing. Butter wouldn’t melt in this guy’s mouth.

Sally Draper

Kodak: “Share Moments. Share Life.”

I considered giving Sally the Nikon tagline, “At the Heart of the Image,” because Sally is truly the show’s pulse. And even in the scenes she’s not in, I can’t help but feel we’re seeing life in the 1960s and early ’70s through her lens. Still, I opted for another imaging company, Kodak, instead. Not just because Kodak has been central to Mad Men‘s storyline—recall the episode “The Wheel” from season one—but because we’ve literally watched Sally Draper grow up from a 7-year-old child to a budding young woman. Together, we’ve helped raise Sally. And we care about her like she’s our own. We’ve shared in her moments, both tender and painful. We’ve shared in her life, which is what the best television offers us: an empathetic glimpse into another’s world.

On that note, let me close with Don’s emotional speech from “The Wheel” because it feels apt to speak of nostalgia as this monumental series leaves the airwaves for good:

“Nostalgia: It’s delicate but potent … [it] literally means the pain from an old womb. It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called ‘the wheel.’ It’s called a carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels—around and around, and back home again to a place where we know we are loved.”

Mad Men, you were loved. And you’ll be sorely missed.

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