50 Years Later, Heinz Approves Don Draper’s ‘Pass the Heinz’ Ads and Is Actually Running Them

Joint effort between David Miami and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce

Headshot of Tim Nudd

It was a compelling idea, even if the client wasn’t convinced at the time.

Fifty years ago, in the fictional world of Mad Men, Don Draper pitched a daring ad campaign to Heinz execs, for the brand’s ketchup, that proposed not showing the product at all. Instead, the ads would show close-ups of foods that go great with ketchup—french fries, a cheeseburger, a slice of steak—but without any ketchup in sight.

Don’s proposed tagline: “Pass the Heinz.”

The campaign’s “Got Milk?”-like strategy of creating a craving for a product through its absence was apparently too far ahead of its time. Don didn’t get the account. (Nor, for that matter, did Peggy Olson, who, pitching for a competing agency, presented a much more product-centric campaign right after Don.)

But now, in 2017, the time for “Pass the Heinz” has come.

In a meta union of advertising’s real and fictional worlds, Heinz just greenlighted the ads—and will run them almost exactly as Draper intended, beginning today, in print and out-of-home executions in New York City.

Partly a PR stunt, partly just solid on-brand communications, the campaign is sure to delight fans of the AMC show, which in July will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its premiere. And in a nice touch, the ads are officially being credited to Heinz’s current agency, David Miami, and to Don’s fictional 1960s firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. (Draper and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, who approved the idea, are both listed in the credits.)

Below are the three ads that are running.

Heinz tells AdFreak that each one will get its own billboard in NYC. All three ads will also run in the New York Post, and the fries execution will run in Variety too. The ads will get support across Heinz’s social media channels as well.

Nicole Kulwicki, head of the Heinz brand, told AdFreak the timing was right to finally approve an idea that was presented (but not really) so many decades ago.

“Even though Don Draper created the ‘Pass the Heinz’ campaign almost 50 years ago, the communications still really work in today’s world,” she said. “Mr. Draper really understood the one thing every Heinz fan knows, which is to never settle for the foods you love without the great taste of Heinz. What we loved about the campaign is that it doesn’t require paragraphs of copy to explain it. It features mouthwatering food images, and all that’s missing is the Heinz.”

Anselmo Ramos, chief creative officer of David, joked that he met with Draper recently (it’s good to hear Don is still with us—at what would be 91 years old). “We had a couple of Old Fashioneds,” Ramos said, “and he gave me the mechanicals from the original campaign.”

In truth, David had to re-create the images from scratch. “We didn’t have the files, so we had to do a photo shoot,” Ramos said. “It needed to look exactly the same, and that was a beautiful challenge.”

Like Kulwicki, Ramos believes the concept really isn’t dated at all.

“It’s so simple,” he said. “Don did a great job. This is just 100 percent on-brand positioning. It is about never settling. You look at these beautiful shots of empty fries, or a burger, and there’s something missing. And when you say ‘Pass the Heinz,’ that’s all you need to say. You don’t need to show the product.”

"Don did a great job. You look at these beautiful shots of empty fries, or a burger, and there's something missing. You don't need to show the product."
Anselmo Ramos, CCO at David

In the Mad Men episode, “To Have and to Hold” (from season 6, which aired in 2013), the Heinz clients balk, clearly uncomfortable with Don’s unconventional idea, with one of them calling it “half an ad.” “They even said, ‘I want to see the bottle. I want to see the product,'” Ramos said. “And Don says, well, you don’t need to show the product, because the consumer will complete the thought. The product will be in their imagination, which is even more powerful.”

Better late than never for that client approval.

Defictionalizing ads from a TV show, and running them in the real world, is fun for both the public and the creatives at David who worked on it, said Ramos, who called it “almost like reverse product placement.”

“As you can imagine, the creatives here are really happy to see their names next to Don Draper and Matt Weiner. They’re like, ‘Oh my God, we’re collaborating with them?'” Ramos said. “It’s interesting. Sometimes you’ll have two agencies collaborating for a client. This time, it’s a fictional agency and a real agency, trying to sell a campaign that just makes sense for this brand.”

And while the media buy is limited, Kulwicki said this isn’t just a gag for Mad Men fans.

“You can be walking by the billboard and it’s still very powerful, even if you don’t understand the Mad Men connection,” she says. “Of course, we would love Mad Men fans to pick up on it, but we feel it works very well on its own, too.”

The french-fries ad at 49th and 7th

In the end, of course, the whole thing is a bit of a lark. Heinz even sent the campaign’s creative credits to AdFreak looking as though they’d been written on a typewriter. And Ramos, a bit cheekily, suggested the industry can learn something from this work.

“It took us 50 years to get this approved. So, never give up. Never settle,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a while to prove an idea you’re passionate about. Sometimes it takes fictional characters working together with real characters. But don’t give up. Eventually, if you really believe in your idea, you’ll get it approved.”

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@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.