As his judgment becomes more and more tinted by amber waves of Canadian Club, it's becoming likely that Don Draper's long-lasting value to the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce project might be his counsel to someone whose name isn't on the door -- yet. Sure, it was Draper's cinematic effort for Glo-Coat that bagged the agency a Clio and some glory, but it's clearer and clearer that the future belongs to Pete Campbell and, especially, Peggy Olsen.
Peggy's hero worship of Don will surely be thrown under the wheels by his breakdown, but some good lessons may still fall off the back of the truck. In last night's episode, his wisdom to the young copywriter was that she had to deal with -- and not avoid -- her obnoxious but talented and experienced new art director, who worked on never-aired ads for LBJ. That confrontation took the shape of a rather ridiculous battle-of-the-sexes game of chicken that left the pair naked in a hotel room -- to write copy for Vick's cough drops. The important thing to know is that Peggy won.
Pete won his own battle by ensuring that Ken Cosgrove, who appears to be joining the agency with a few accounts in hand, will do so as a report to Campbell. Pete's political moves, like Peggy's, are more and more deft, likely because, as even Pryce alludes, he's the partner with a fresh, sober eye on the agency. As such, he won't be outflanked by Pryce or Cosgrove, as he demonstrated last night, or even Sterling, as he showed last week.
Meanwhile, Sterling and Draper continue to fade, in very different ways and to different effects. Occupied by the equally frivolous activities of writing his memoir and managing his little-seen but high-maintenance young wife, Roger does little around the startup shop besides try to keep Lucky Strike, its largest (for now) client, in the building, and insult potential clients. That fact is so obvious it's acknowledged by Pryce as he makes a case for adding account-handling firepower.
Sterling's concern over legacy, both with the memoir and with getting some credit from Don, is framed by flashbacks to when he meets an eager-beaver fur salesman looking for a break. This is Roger in full white-haired bloom of melancholy, and even Joan, who appears as his lover in the flashback, is put off by him in the show's present, leaving the post-awards bar with the line, "You've crossed the border from lubricated into morose."
Sterling's decline is acceptable: He's had his time. Don hasn't, and his descent is visceral, disappointing. Winning a Clio is an occasion to get blotto, leave the trophy at the bar, commit the agency to a mediocre ad concept, and go home with a copywriter on Friday night only to wake up on Sunday with a waitress named Doris and an angry ex-wife on the phone.
The heavy drinking -- accompanied by some increasingly dubious brand attention for Canadian Club -- is becoming more of a problem. Draper drunkenly rattles off some alternative taglines when Life execs reject the original pitch. Blitzing through some terrible options to please clients only looking for a bland slogan is about as un-Draper-like as it gets. Unfortunately, he ends up selling one penned by a nebbish nephew of Sterling's wife whose book includes Bernbach's "Lemon" for Volkswagen and lots of other stuff that isn't his.
Flashback Don might be hacky and cloying -- all big smiles, open expressions, glad-handing and cheap double-breasted suits with his wallet's outline visible in the jacket pocket -- but that eagerness and enthusiasm is a foil to the somber dreg of the present, perpetually sleeping one off in a prone, almost funereal position.
I asked Fred Danzig, former editor of Advertising Age whose career spanned from 1962 to 1995, to vet the episode for accuracy. Here's his take on the portrayal of the Clios:
"The Clio Awards -- founded in 1959 by Wally Ross -- was regarded as a rather shabby operation back in '65. Awards being the golden path to winning business, agencies took to Clio, albeit slowly, since they'd been reveling in copywriting and art-directing awards from peer organizations.
Clio, back then, was the poor -- but welcome -- relative, since, after all, it WAS an award the winners could brag about.
Whether it was held at the Roosevelt Hotel or the old Commodore, I don't remember, but I don't think it was yet ready for prime time -- the Waldorf-Astoria -- back then. The episode seemed to have the hard-drinking Clio reception action taking place in the hotel's main dining room, but this couldn't have happened. You chatted/sipped/drank outside and then the dining room doors opened and you strolled in to take your assigned seat.
Keep in mind that agencies were hosting clients and suppliers at these affairs; to get sloshed in front of them was a no-no -- back then.
As for the Clios, there was a nagging suspicion abroad that if a nominee bought, say, a table at this event, good things would happen when awards were handed out."
Up until now, Draper's main achievement would be his spaghetti western take for Glo-Coat, a self-shining floor polish introduced during the Great Depression by Johnson Wax, (now SC Johnson). In reality, Glo-Coat's ads were popular and you can see how this one from 1965 might have caught on as a how-did-they-do-that moment, the kind of viewer reaction that makes stuff go viral these days:
In the meeting with the Life marketers, proto-Media Maven Harry Crane suggests that the agency build an hour of programming around Life and other Quaker Oats cereals. That's interesting for two reasons: One, it's a reminder that branded content is not new. Second, that sort of programming is exactly what Glo-Coat enjoyed between 1935 and 1950 on the "Fibber McGee & Molly" radio show, which was officially known as "The Johnson's Wax Show." One of the characters was a friend of the McGees who would drop into each show and weave some ad copy into the dialogue.
Glo-Coat was discontinued in the 1990s. Neverthless, its immortality is ensured, thanks to the Nitty Gritty Dirt band song "Glo-Coat Blues." Sample lyric: "Mama died and left me -- she left me a brand-new mop/I'm gonna wax the floor, and baby, you know I ain't goin' stop." And the brand name (sans hyphen) still graces a product: a hair conditioner for dogs.
Glo-Coat, by the way, never won a Clio.
If you're wondering whether Life got its healthy positioning, rest assured it did. Oh boy, it did.
In 1971, Life would be attached to one of the greatest commercials ever, the "Mikey" campaign, which ran for a dozen or so years.
Mattnew Creamer is a former editor and reporter for Ad Age. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/matt_creamer