NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Despite the show's comparatively low ratings and modest ad revenue, package-goods behemoth Unilever is making a big bet on AMC's "Mad Men" with the launch of a marketing blitz for six of its iconic brands: Dove, Breyers, Hellman's, Klondike, Suave and Vaseline.
Unilever picked the second episode in the fourth season of "Mad Men" to unveil the push, which is akin to an advertising miniseries.
If you didn't catch it last night, that's likely because the commercials, created by WPP's Mindshare Entertainment, are similar to the show's content.
In each vignette, we see characters Phil Smith and Tad Winter, a copywriter and art director working at fictional 1960s ad agency SmithWinterMitchell, developing campaigns for the six Unilever brands. Much like the shop featured on "Mad Men," Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Unilever's fictional agency is meant to be a challenger to the hulking beasts of Madison Avenue.
The first in the series focused on Dove, and each vignette is expected to air twice throughout the season.
Asked why they embarked on the "Mad Men" strategy, a company spokeswoman said in an email: "Unilever created the vignettes to showcase its iconic brands and celebrate their heritage on a hit show that is culturally relevant to consumers today. Consumers are craving nostalgia. The featured brands are prominent today and were popular in the 1960s, when 'Mad Men' is set."
Interestingly, the first reactions from viewers and bloggers haven't been positive, with some complaining about how the ads too closely mimic the show.
Wrote Jaime Flores on the "Mad Men" Facebook page: "Who is Dove soap trying to fool with that fake Mad Men commercial!?" Said John Heilingenthal: "That is how I felt, like Dove was trying to steal Mad Men's thunder!'
"Despite hating the weak, we-suckered-you-into-watching-our commercial, Dove did generate some talk about it," wrote Suzanne Hardy on the Facebook page. "Still, subconsciously, I'm sure next time I buy soap I will see the Dove brand and automatically think SCAM ARTISTS and buy Ivory instead."
A blogger at the Frisky.com, meanwhile, griped, "I usually love Dove commercials but I found this one to be way off-target from their 'women loving themselves' branding.
$137.8B U.S. ad spend for top 200 advertisers
The idea of creating branded content isn't new for Unilever and Mindshare Entertainment, a partnership cited on Ad Age's Entertainment A-List this year. The pair have created a series of webisodes for brands including I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Breyers, Dove and, earlier this year, Bertolli.
London-based Unilever ranks 21st on Ad Age's list of 100 National Advertisers, behind Verizon, AT&T, Kraft, Walmart and Ford. According to Ad Age's Data Center, Unilever spent an estimated $1.29 billion on U.S. advertising last year, with just under half of that figure devoted to TV advertising.