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What Don Draper Can Teach Us About Marketing Products

What Don Draper Can Teach Us About Marketing Products

Knowing how to effectively market products is one of the most important business skills you can have. Here’s a vital lesson in how to do it right…


I watched a couple seasons of Mad Men, and here is, by far, my favorite scene:

Captivating, touching, and insightful. You can’t get help but get a little choked up.

There’s a marketing lesson in it, too. It strikes at the most important marketing question of all…

Why do people buy stuff?

What simple statement explains why things are valuable enough for us to trade our precious money?

The “Secret” to Why We Buy Stuff

We’ve probably all heard the saying that people buy based on emotion, not logic. There’s much truth in this. No matter how coldly logical and practical a purchase may seem, there’s always a subtle, emotional aspect (why did you choose that loaf of bread or brand of light bulb over another?). But there’s more.

I could go into Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, William James’ explanation of basic human desires, Elmer Wheeler’s five motivators, or some other psychological dissertation…but let’s keep this simple: people buy things to help them along in the journey of life.

And what are the two basic motivators in this journey? I think the answer boils down to this: avoid pain, experience pleasure. Pain repels us from death, and pleasure attracts us toward the enhancement of life.

The dictionary defines pleasure as “enjoyment or satisfaction derived from what is to one’s liking; gratification; delight.” Pleasure can be found in many types of activities, and is the reward for pursuing goals that improve our survival in some way, to some degree.

Pain is defined as “physical suffering or distress, as due to injury, illness, etc.” and “mental or emotional suffering or torment.” It’s the result of the pursuit of goals that impair our survival.

The urges to experience pleasure and avoid pain lie at the heart of all of our activities in life, buying included. This isn’t abstract philosophy; this is empirical fact. Just think about it for a moment: review any activity you’re engaged in and ask yourself what pleasure you’re seeking or what pain you’re trying to avoid. Nothing in life falls outside of this simple framework.

Now, those two categories subdivide into a near-endless list of specific varieties. Pain can take many forms: the aches of arthritis, being ridiculed for poor work, hearing words of rejection from a girl, fiery, persistent heartburn, cringing when you step on the scale, failing to grasp the piano, and so on.

Pleasure has many forms too: enjoying your work, thinking of accomplishments, reading a good book, talking with a good work, climbing a mountain, having a first kiss, planning for the future, and even dreaming of things you’ll probably never do.

How to Use This to Market Products

What this boils down to is if you want to make your products or services irresistible to your prospects, you must be able to persuasively show that you can help them avoid pain or experience pleasure.  And not just any old pains or pleasures, either—the exact pains they are suffering from and the exact pleasures they salivate over.

Every great marketing campaign in history did this; some focused only on avoiding pain, others only on experiencing pleasure, and others combined both.

Two of the primary things you must uncover are, in the realm of your product or service, what pains your prospects are currently experiencing or will agree are on the horizon and what pleasures are real, valuable and worth striving for.

The only way to grab someone’s attention as they flit past your advertising is to hit them where they’re at. Talking about pains they have no experience with or foresight of, or about pleasures they may not even realize are possible or desirable is a sure road to failure.

To put this in perspective, in the late 1800s, few American homes had a bathtub or even running water. Several manufacturers started advertising bathtubs, but people weren’t sold on the idea and thus didn’t want them. Some states placed special taxes on them and one even made it illegal to have a bathtub. Many years of persistent advertising, done at great expense, eventually changed this, but it was a lesson in the massive costs and headaches connected with swaying mass opinion and fabricating trends.

So the point is this: When you try to market anything to anyone, you must address him at his current reality or he won’t accept your message.  And one of the first aspects of his reality you want to address is that of pains and pleasures because these are what motivate people to take action.

It has been said that when you can describe a prospect’s problem better than he can—when you can show you really understand him, his frustrations, his dreams—he automatically assumes you have the answer.

5 Vital Marketing Questions That All Great Marketers Use

Copywriting legend Dan Kennedy lists ten “smart market diagnosis and profiling” questions in his book, The Ultimate Sales Letter. Here are a few I want to share:

  1. What keeps your prospects awake at night, indigestion boiling up their esophagus, eyes open, staring at the ceiling?
  2. What are they afraid of?
  3. What are they angry about? Who are they angry at?
  4. What are their top three daily frustrations?
  5. What do they secretly, ardently desire most?

When you know the real answers to these questions, you’ll have an incredibly persuasive insight into your prospects’ minds. You will be able to see the world through their eyes and exploit the deep-seated emotional motivators that dictate their actions.

Many marketing gurus teach that you must uncover your prospect’s fears and frustrations and wants and aspirations. As marketers, they jump all over people’s pains, make them yearn for the exact pleasures they dream about, and often make a point to show them how painful things will continue to be if immediate action isn’t taken. And they sell billions of dollars of products every year.


What did you think of this lesson on how to market products? Have anything else you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Donald

    I also sent the following as a question on the site and supplement customer service site so I apologize if you read it twice.
    I recently read your book Bigger Leaner Stronger and really enjoyed it. My question was about your new protein legion whey+. The nutrition info says there are 26g protein per serving and 102 calories per serving. If protein is 4 cals per gram 26 x 4 = 104 calories. That’s over 100% of the calories coming from protein not including the small amount of carbs. How is this possible. Am I missing something? Thank you

    • Adam

      Yes. If you are honestly concerned about a ~6 calorie disparity…you are missing a very very important “something”….

      A life.

      Harsh, yes. But seriously?

      • Donald

        When a major selling point of a product is that it doesn’t hide behind proprietary blends and all ingredients are presented with the actual amounts used this becomes a legitimate question. What is the source of the extra calories? Is this a label error or is something present not listed? I could really care less about the extra calories but this isn’t the cheapest protein and it makes me wonder about their product if simple math doesn’t add up. So if you have nothing to contribute to the conversation you should keep your mouth shut.

        • Michael Matthews

          No worries Donald.

      • Michael Matthews

        I don’t mind the question, Adam. 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      Good question!

      This is simply because while the 4/4/9 multiplication rule is more or less accurate, when you bomb caliometry test food, it will never exactly match–it will generally be within 10 calories or so.

      For instance, recent research has shown that protein may be closer to about 3.2 calories per gram due to the thermic effect of food.

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