How This Mad Men Co-Producer Made Don Draper’s Work Believable

Meet the man behind the show’s ad campaigns

Josh Weltman, a co-producer of Mad Men, created most of the ad campaigns seen on the show. Beginning as an art director in the '80s, Weltman went on to be a creative director at West Coast agencies on brands including Taco Bell, Doritos and Microsoft. Adweek caught up with Weltman—author of Seducing Strangers: How to Get People to Buy What You're Selling, published by Workman last month—to talk about the daunting task of creating advertising in a show about advertising.

Joshua Weltman 

Adweek: What was the process for how ads in the show were produced?

Josh Weltman: The way scripted television shows typically work is, there's a writers' room of about eight to 10 writers and executive producers coming up with outlines for scripts. Then they'd march those script outlines down to the art production department, and, typically, they would have made the show's ads along with other props. But what [creator] Matt [Weiner] and I talked about early on was that if you want ads that look like they were made by an art director and copywriters working together, then I should spend time with the writers.

Where would you have come into the process in, say, the first season's finale, when, for a pitch to Kodak for its slide projector, Don Draper uses slides of happier moments from his faltering marriage?

Matt said, "We've got to find a product or a business story that lets us know what Don is feeling about his work situation, marriage and his brother's suicide." Before going into the writers' room every week, I would read research like the advertising columns in The New York Times in the 1960s, and we found that the Kodak Carousel came out the year after the time of the episode, so the advertising for it must have been being developed at exactly this time. So Don being able to pitch a product where he could use images from his own life could satisfy that problem.

Did you pitch in with writing scripts?

No. I brought ideas into the writers' room and developed the ad campaigns to use within episodes before that outline was given to a writer, who was sent away to turn that into a finished script. I was always trying to help the writers make the characters look as if they were conjuring advertising.

To look authentic, did you do the ads freehand?

Usually I pulled old ads off the Web. I'd mirror the typefaces and design, then print it out and either copy it freehand or trace it. For instance, with the "Mark Your Man" lipstick ads in the first season [for the fictional brand Belle Jolie], the layout was done on the computer, but then I did the pastel freehand.

What did you mean when you wrote in your book: "Don Draper can lie anywhere, except in the advertising"?

Matt wanted to establish what made Don Draper interesting as a character was this inability to connect on a personal level combined with an ability to connect on a meta level through the medium of advertising.

Like in a pitch to Hershey at the end of Season 6 when Don reveals he grew up in a brothel?

The advertising pitches were a great way to let the audience know what Don was thinking. It kind of let us into his secret, private world the same way that Tony Soprano would go into Dr. Melfi's office [on HBO's The Sopranos] and the audience would find out what he was thinking.

It seems ironic that Don's campaigns capture his truest impulses, since many critics think of advertising as being coercive and deceptive.

I don't think of advertising that way at all. It's always finding the truthful insight into why people are motivated to buy one thing over another that helps me sell stuff.