Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

2 minute read

Mad Men and Trust Agents

They’re at the opposite ends of the conversation spectrum. The show context is that of media and advertising, two areas that are undergoing rapid change - some would call it a decline. Mad Men captivated the public’s imagination by its depiction of a long gone era - dare I say with a tinge of nostalgia?

While the characters of the AMC series might be fascinating in their ruthlessness, their behaviors engender the kind of dialogue that doesn’t promise best results in real life (IRL). What people like most about that characters in Mad Men is that they may be cads (male and female), but they're not a bunch of pussies.

Opinions are the currency of the social Web. That’s why the show has such a passionate following. Taking risks and trying new things has been a characteristic of the early adopters, many of whom technologists, who have made a name for themselves and created a following online.

The audience loves the fact that these non-pussies are so ruthlessly acting in their own self interest, it seems refreshing.

This is because people still don't get the emerging dynamics of 21st century business. We are so conditioned to put our own interests first, we see collaborative behavior as a degree of surrender - something we do because we think we'll benefit from the exchange. If we appear to be our customer's friend and advocate, for instance, it will give us an advantage when it comes to sell that person something.

This attitude puts us squarely in the corner of the Don Drapers of this world. It's duplicitous, and misunderstands what a Trust Agent really is.

We are rapidly approaching the point where we are so interconnected that all business relationships are ultimately a collaboration. Yes, we all have needs. This hasn't changed, and it won't. But in a 21st Century marketplace, we do not have different goals than our partners. They want to meet their needs, and we want them to, also. Even if it means we put their needs ahead of our own in the short term. Understand this principle - do it consistently and transparently - and you're a Trust Agent.

The little in-joke about America's infatuation with the lovable, irredeemable cads of Mad Men is that the characters' bad behavior won't be rewarded for long. The wealth, power, and prestige of the Old School ad agency is about to be upended by the Aquarians, forerunners of today's creative class. And there should be a lesson in that for us all.

Read more of Valeria Maltoni’s Customer Conversation

Valeria Maltoni helps businesses understand how customers and communities have changed marketing, public relations, and communications - and how to build value in this new environment. As a communicator with 20 years of experience, 10 of which online, she specializes in marketing communications, customer dialogue, and brand management. Valeria has come to define modern business as a long and open conversation. Conversation Agent is recognized among the world's top online marketing blogs.