Don Draper would not buy the world a coke…but not for the reasons you think.
Don Draper would not buy the world a Coke.
The Don Draper I saw on the bluffs of Big Sur is a new man, one who has shed his illusions and found himself at long last. This new Don, a prototype for the “New Age Man,” is the last man I can imagine subverting the 60’s ethos that led to his transformation by promoting a soda as the agent of world peace. Of course, this may be my illusion. So let me ask Don to make the pitch for me.
[Don steps to the end of a conference table before a gathering of client reps and account execs]
“Picture if you will … a middle–aged man. Successful. Handsome. At the height of his profession. He is respected by men and desired by woman.
“We all know this man. In the 50’s, he climbed the corporate ladder. In the 60’s, he was `the kind of man who read Playboy.’ It was a man’s world then, and he was the essence of a man’s man.
“But something … changes. As middle–age creeps on, he looks down from his office tower upon the world he has conquered and sees … emptiness.” [The account exec shifts uncomfortably in his seat.] “Broken marriages. Kids he hardly knows. A half–brother who idolized him … spurned. Driven to suicide—perhaps by him.” [The panicked account exec suggests adjourning, but the client is intrigued. Don fights to keep a grip on himself]. “He sees a woman—a sexual partner. Abandoned. Handcuffed to a bed. He sees other women—other men’s wives. One, a much better man than himself—a surgeon. His friend. Betrayed. Like so many.
“This man has a protégé, a young woman fighting to make it in a man’s world. But the world has changed, too. Woman’s Lib is going strong. And this woman—let’s call her Peggy—has risen. She has joined her mentor at the biggest, most prestigious firm in the field. And he asks her: What’s next? She’s taken aback, but says she’d like to become a creative director at an ad agency. Our man understands. This was his dream once. But he challenges her: Then what? Land a big client, she says. He is unimpressed, and prods further. Do something big, she proclaims. In advertising? he says. His cynicism stings. Write a jingle, she says. So you want fame, he says. And she tells him, you’re shitting on my dreams.
“But this … dream, if you will, is dead for this man. [Don steps to the easel and reveals a drawing of an open road stretching endlessly toward the horizon. Where the road meets the sky, the product name is emblazoned: Self–Discovery]. “Self–Discovery: For when everything turns out to be an illusion.” [We hear Peggy Lee singing, “Is that all there is?”]. It’s a story as old as story itself. The Odyssey. On The Road. Every … road trip every American kid ever took.
“But before he gets in his car, our hero sheds his high–powered job and the illusion that came with it—the illusion of happiness. He walks out of a pitch meeting just like this one. And heads out on the road.
“And what does our hero do on the road? He sheds things. He sheds every illusion that has kept him from himself for so long.
“He sheds the illusion that women can trust him. A woman he loves—in Wisconsin, let’s say—has fled from him.
“He sheds the false identity that has shielded him. He meets a bunch of war veterans, real soldiers, and confesses: I killed my C.O. And took his name.
“He sheds his baggage—literally. Just as he sheds his emotional baggage.
“He sheds his car. A Cadillac. The ultimate 60’s status symbol for the man who has made it.
“But made what? Our man doesn’t know. He only knows it does not feel right.
“So he hitchhikes to the Coast. The edge of the continent. There literally is nowhere left to hide.
“And what does he find there?” [dramatic pause] “Another loved one who has lost faith in him. He follows her to a retreat on the bluffs above the Pacific, and participates in an encounter group — exactly the sort of thing this hard–charging, whiskey–drinking man, and every man like him, has always sneered at. The facilitator asks the participants to pair up, and communicate what they feel about each other without words … these … hippie–style seekers and this … Madision Avenue titan. The gray–haired woman with whom he is paired sees the contempt on his face, the insufferable smugness … and shoves him hard in the chest. A woman! She’s a woman, and she shoves this man—this man who, years before, said of a brilliant department store owner: I’m not taking orders from any woman.
“He then calls his protégé, Peggy, and sheds his final layers of protection. I’ve broken every vow I’ve ever made, he confesses. I’ve scandalized my child. I’ve taken another man’s name, and made nothing of it. Made nothing of it. This … giant in his field. This man is facing himself at last.
“In the next encounter group, a nondescript man bares his soul and cries out in pain. And of all the people in the room, the one who walks over to embrace him, the one who cries with him, is the last person you’d would ever expect: our hero. A rugged, iconic American man, the kind who thinks crying is for sissies. He is shedding his skin. The last layer, perhaps.
“So he joins a group of seekers—exactly the type of people he formerly scorned—to meditate on a beautiful bluff at sunrise, with the ocean below. Greet a new day, says the leader. A new you. And our hero meditates: sincerely. He is not above the others any longer, he is of them. His skins all are shed. His illusions—discarded. And as he reaches his core, honest with himself, and open to the world, his hard mouth dissolves—at last—into a soft smile.
“At last he is home.”
Thank you Don.
So I ask: Would this transformed Don, after finally shedding his illusions and finding peace, return to the world of corporate illusion? To create an ad of breathtaking triteness, one promoting a soda—a soda!—as the magical elixir to bring world peace?
In my view, the Coke ad, following as it does the concluding shot of the now–enlightened Don, sets up a brilliant ironic contrast between artificiality and genuineness. With its shining, artificial hippies singing their hearts out for an overly sweet, artificially colored beverage, the ad looks especially ridiculous when contrasted with the scene of the sincere seekers it caricatures meditating on the bluffs in a genuine search to find their true selves and connect with others in a genuine way.
Would this transformed Don buy the world a Coke? John Lennon imagined a world without war—but I don’t think he would imagine that.
Photo: Lindsay Silveira/Flickr