The several ad industry parody accounts across the internet have established their own personalities to put the industry’s elephants in the room. Female Copywriter is brilliantly scathing. Lee Clow’s Beard is akin to a fortune in a cookie with its musings. Though not too up to date, This Ad Life is still a gem. And we may or may not have an affinity for Adweak for obvious reasons.
Which brings us to one of the industry’s more unique faux personas: Dong Draper. The homage to Mad Men’s talisman, Don Draper, the account whips between snarky and wholesome on both Instagram and Twitter. Some of its greatest hits include How to Get a Job at Wieden + Kennedy for Dummies, a faux tweet from Donald Trump trying to get a foot in the door at the agency, and several jabs at Cannes Lions culture.
Dong Draper also cleverly takes the layout of Adweek and makes it his own.
Since its inception a year and a half ago, the account’s owner has remained anonymous. But now, he has come forward to reveal himself as copywriter Sai He, and Adweek had a chance to catch up with one of advertising’s court jesters.
You really want to do this?
Sai He: I think so. Yes. Let’s do this.
Good. The big question is: Why did you start this account?
It’s the lovechild of angst and detachment. I was on a yearlong hiatus at the time and missed the agency world dearly. That coupled with the prospect of being single (again) on Valentine’s Day proved too much to bear. I needed a distraction, so I resorted to a classic millennial coping mechanism: making memes.
But there is quite a bit of competition out there.
True. Ad meme accounts like @fart_director_v2_r1_final have tens of thousands double-tapping away at their captioned images; I couldn’t compete. Moreover, I didn’t want to. As a copywriter who nerds out on design and—to the chagrin of my CDs—uses Photoshop as often as Word, I set out to do something different: make memes with craft.
Uh-oh. You invoked the word “craft.”
Ha. Yes. Achieving pixel-perfection is my MO. I wish Photoshop would zoom to 6,400%. My OCD activates whenever I’m aligning, clipping, or masking. I’ll pay for high-quality mockups instead of using low-res freebies. It may seem like a long walk for a lame picnic, but the self-satisfaction is worth a thousand Uncrustables. I digress.
Let’s back on track here. What was your first post?
My inaugural post was “How to Get a Job at W+K for Dummies.” It remains my favorite. After a while, I set up an Instagram account. Dong Draper popped into my perverted noggin. I rolled with it.
Yeah, meant to ask. That name…
Honestly, it was the first thing that I thought of. Sorry to disappoint you. There was no deep research or paining myself over what it should be. It’s similar to how people use names like Dank Sinatra, Lil Intro Vert, Postmates Malone, etc. on the internet.
The account didn’t exactly take off at the beginning.
No, it didn’t. As my audience slowly grew, I began posting to Instagram Stories lower-effort and zeitgeist-y content that didn’t warrant standalone posts. To my surprise, followers were quick to engage and respond in my inbox. To my delight, stranger banter would be heaps of fun.
We have to imagine there’s some funky stuff going on in your DMs.
This is very true. My DMs are a cacophonous hootenanny. They include complaints about smelly art directors, advice on getting over a breakup, punny back-and-forths, empathetic exchanges of #agencylife, silly side project brainstorms and recruiters who share funny memes. Followers also send me creative compliments. “You’re the dong dot com.” “More accurate than @Adweak.” “A riot and a sage voice at the same time.” “Hurtful to copywriters.” “Artful trolling.” I love and thank you all for sliding in.
You started this thing as open to everyone, then you made it private and anonymous. Why is that?
It was never my intention. After getting my MBA last summer, I seized the opportunity of a lifetime to move Down Under and join Clemenger BBDO. While I struggled to learn how to order a black coffee in New Zealand, controversy was brewing back in the U.S., where an agency leader had publicly antagonized employees. I just so happened to have a spreadsheet of recruiters and CD emails I compiled earlier that summer for my own job-hunting purposes, so I posted on my Instagram Story that I’d offer it to anyone looking to leave.
For a week, my lock screen doubled as a strobe light, flashing hundreds of message requests and new followers. Existing followers sent me job openings at their agencies, which I forwarded along. The more notifications I received, the more I tried to do, the more my inbox overflowed. When an anonymous account sent me an unpleasant note, I had a bout of paranoia. I switched @dong.draper to private and removed my identifying information. Wary of further harassment, I stopped posting altogether and took a tech detox.
Yeah. I was in over my head. While I’m passionate about helping others, it couldn’t be at the expense of my mental health. So when I logged back in, I imposed some editorial guidelines. Rather than tackling significant issues head-on, I now try and focus on positive entertainment and engagement. Things like running viral image caption contests. Opining on work/life balance. Highlighting the side projects I love. Reviewing student portfolios. Tweeting relatable content. And of course, continuing to make memes with craft. As one follower recently put it, “I couldn’t get through ad life without you.” That sentiment is validating.
Another big question. Why did you decide to come forward as the creator of the account?
It’s a difficult decision, and one I’ve weighed for months. Ultimately, it comes down to connection and connections. I wouldn’t put as much effort into running @dong.draper if I didn’t get so much out of it. Messaging followers has been truly revelatory. As a lifelong misfit, I’ve always struggled with finding my people. @dong.draper is making it easier. Right before I left for New Zealand, I met up for drinks with some followers on a whim. To my surprise, we hit it off and have remained in constant contact.
What’s next for Dong Draper?
I’m keen to tackle more ambitious projects. In the works are continued collaborations with Fishbowl (He worked with the industry app during Cannes), training an AI neural net to write copywriter “About Me” pages, hosting after-work meetups and networking events, turning my Photoshop creations into actual products, and other mischievous shenanigans. Oh, and I keep meaning to send Alex Bogusky a funny @dong.draper T-shirt. He told me he might wear it “if it’s hot.”
Alex, if you’re reading this, DM me a mailing address and shirt size.