Since “Mad Men” made its debut on the AMC cable channel in 2007, BBDO has been mentioned in many episodes. But during the most recent season, the fourth, which concluded on Oct. 17, BBDO figured in one of the most significant plot lines, when it picked up the Lucky Strike cigarette account in 1965 from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the fledgling agency run by the principal “Mad Men” characters.
“The unintended and unsponsored ‘product placement’ appears to have generated some increased awareness” for BBDO, Andrew Robertson, chief executive at BBDO Worldwide in New York, a division of the Omnicom Group, wrote in an e-mail.
“To date,” he joked, “this has not resulted in any incremental business.”
The real denizens of Madison Avenue in the 2000s have avidly followed their fictional counterparts on “Mad Men” in the 1960s since the series started. But the developments of the fourth season seem to have intensified that interest because the stories were perceived as true to life.
“Like all dramas, there’s a lot on ‘Mad Men’ that’s unrealistic,” said David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO North America, “but there’s a lot they get right — sometimes, uncomfortably so.”
For instance, the loss of Lucky Strike threatened the solvency of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce because it had been, by far, the start-up agency’s largest client.
Watching that unfold “hit me right in the solar plexus,” said Carol Cone, a managing director at Edelman in New York, because it brought back memories of a week in 1995 when two large accounts both left an agency in Boston that she owned.
“Your confidence is decimated, and you wonder if you’re going to make it,” Ms. Cone said. “I certainly could commiserate.”
The idea, said Barbara Lippert, the advertising critic for the trade publication Adweek, that “everything could go up in smoke the next day still keeps agency people up at night.”
“Despite all the changes in advertising, despite all the technological advances, some things never change,” she added. “No matter how big you are, you’re still dependent on connections, office politics and the whims of the clients.”
Ms. Lippert also praised small touches that added to the veracity of “Mad Men” this season. One was the introduction of a character named Ted Chaough, a partner at an agency, Cutler Gleason & Chaough, that was a rival to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. She said that the unusual name — and its unusual pronunciation, like “Shaw” — evoked Jay Chiat (pronounced “Shy-ett”), whose agency, Chiat/Day, helped change advertising in the ’70s and ’80s.
And in an episode about the advocacy of Don Draper, the creative leader of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, that agencies stop handling cigarette accounts — after losing Lucky Strike, of course, not before — there was a reference to Emerson Foote, who in real life worked for tobacco clients but later became a director of the American Cancer Society.
“ ‘Mad Men’ brings back the sex appeal of the advertising industry,” said Al DiGuido, chief executive at Zeta Interactive, a digital agency that monitors discussions in online media like blogs, message boards and Twitter through mining technology it calls Zeta Buzz.
“The show has an incredibly strong and vocal group following it,” Mr. DiGuido said, “and they love to talk about it.”
In the last month, the overall volume of discussions about “Mad Men” rose to a level higher than at any time since it came on, he added, and the average daily volume exceeded that for shows with higher ratings, like “Glee,” “Jersey Shore” and “Modern Family.”
The percentage of discussions of “Mad Men” in social media that were positive also reached a high in the fourth season, Mr. DiGuido said, at 93 percent, compared with 92 percent in the 2009 season, 81 percent in 2008 and 78 percent in 2007.
The most common words among positive comments, he added, included “advertising” and variations like “ads”; “products”; “Cadillac,” perhaps referring to the 1962 Coupe de Ville driven by Don Draper; and “Dove,” one of six Unilever brands that sponsored “Mad Men” this season and were featured in commercials that echoed the look of the series.
On Twitter, there are multiple accounts for each major character on “Mad Men,” along with accounts for minor characters, deceased characters, spouses, children and even inanimate objects like the Xerox 914 copier, the vending machine and the Dictaphone in the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office.
According to Networked Insights, a company that uses a technology it calls Social Sense to analyze social media, “Mad Men” finished first on a list of the “top 10 engaged TV shows” from Oct. 15 through Thursday, exceeding the rank of series like “30 Rock” and “House.”
Why did the writers of “Mad Men” decide to have Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce lose the Lucky Strike account to BBDO? Characters talk about a decision to consolidate all the tobacco company’s business at BBDO, and in real-life 1965, Lucky Strike and its parent, American Tobacco, were on the BBDO client roster.
Other clients then included vintage “Mad Men” brands like Philco electronics, Rexall drugstores and Schaefer beer. Among the 1965 clients that remain on the BBDO roster in 2010 are Armstrong, Campbell Soup, General Electric and Hormel.
Hmmm. Perhaps the fifth season will feature a battle over the Spam account.