Koss, the Milwaukee-based company, only learned it was being
used at the last minute and had absolutely no say on the matter.
Like other brands written into the "Mad Men" universe, its
executives didn't see the episode before it aired or have any input
on a script that used Koss in a central way: to allow Peggy Olson
to show off her creative and crisis-management chops.
CEO Michael Koss got word of his company's star turn from a
newspaper article published a couple weeks before the premiere
aired, leaving just enough time to try to take advantage of the
appearance and try to figure exactly what the drama was going to
say about Koss. After all, "Mad Men" doesn't always put the brands
it features in the best of lights. Last season, a repugnant Jaguar
client offered Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce its account only if he
could sleep with Joan Harris.
So was Mr. Koss nervous? In an interview, he said there were
some coincidences mentioned by the article that were a touch
unnerving. Mr. Koss is not only a former ad agency guy but also a
graduate of Wisconsin's Beloit College, which is name-checked on
the show by creepy new account guy Bob Benson. That meant that his
company, his alma mater and his former profession were all part of
the script. (Koss headphones had also appeared in a season-five
episode on the ears of Pete Campbell.)
"I thought: Is a writer on the show someone that I knew back
then?" he recalled. "Oh my gosh, did I do something that somebody
wrote me into the story? We were really curious."
After Koss reached out, the show's producers confirmed the brand
had a role, but still wouldn't preview the episode for the company
or reveal how it was going to be used. They did have Mr. Koss' son,
the company's director of marketing, out for a tour of the set. And
Mr. Koss was assured they'd be happy about the episode -- probably
something they would not have told Jaguar last season.
In the days before the premiere, Koss' marketing team hustled to
seize the moment, filling the company's Facebook page and Twitter
feed with relevant content. They started a "Legacy Sweep-stakes"
giveaway with prizes that include Koss headphones and retro
posters signed by John Koss, who founded the company in 1953 and
invented the first stereo headphones designed for music five years
In the end, Koss Corp. does come out looking pretty good. The
episode depicts a Koss that is getting nervous over a popular
"Tonight Show" bit about some U.S. soldiers making necklaces from
Viet Cong ears -- just weeks before Koss plans a Super Bowl
commercial with the tagline "Lend Us Your Ears." Under the gun,
Peggy comes up with a new tagline: "Sounds so sharp and clear you
can actually see it."