Maybe they weren’t so “Mad” after all.

Mad Men. While the show's portrayal of 1960’s Madison Avenue may seem dated, its portrayal of the strategic thinking that goes into a good marketing strategy certainly isn’t… dated, that is. One particularly noteworthy scene – featuring Don Draper, Lee Garner Jr. and Sr., and a discussion around how to sell a poisonous product, tobacco – provides us with a not-far-off-the-mark-at-all glimpse into how a solid marketing strategy is developed.

Don Draper: This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal. We have six identical companies making six identical products. We can say anything we want. How do you make your cigarettes?

Lee Garner, Jr.: I don't know.

Lee Garner, Sr.: Shame on you. We breed insect repellant tobacco seeds, plant them in the North Carolina sunshine, grow it, cut it, cure it, toast it...

Don Draper: There you go. There you go.

[Writes on chalkboard and underlines: "IT'S TOASTED."]

Lee Garner, Jr.: But everybody else's tobacco is toasted.

Don Draper: No. Everybody else's tobacco is poisonous. Lucky Strikes'... is toasted. Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing is OK. You are OK.

Lee Garner, Sr.: It's toasted. [Smiles] I get it.

Now, as far-fetched as this may seem, this is actually the way it works in the ad agency world. This is how the agency arrives at a brand’s USP or Unique Selling Proposition, which is the most critical component of any marketing campaign. First, you determine who your audience is. Then, how you’ll reach them. Once you’ve done that, you need to ask yourself this very important question: “What makes this product different, better, or better still, unique?” The answer will become your USP, and it’s the USP upon which you will build your campaign. 

I can’t count on both hands and both feet the number of times I sat in meetings just like this one. In fact, when I worked on the Oscar Mayer business – let’s just say a few years back –  we came up with "Roasted" (yes, roasted, not toasted!) for their hot dogs. We’d gone to one of their plants and learned that, unlike their competitors, they cooked their hot dogs over an open flame. We figured that "Roasted for flavor" would make a great way to position our hot dogs against the competitors and then built a commercial around that USP.  You can click here to see the commercial!

At its core, a USP is a succinct statement that encapsulates the unique benefits and value proposition of a product or service. It serves as a clear differentiator that sets a brand apart from its competitors. In a sea of similar offerings, a strong USP gives consumers a reason to choose your bank over another. It answers the fundamental question every consumer has: "Why should I choose you?"

Consider Apple's iconic USP, which also serves as their theme line: "Think Different." This simple yet powerful statement positioned Apple as a brand that challenges the status quo and empowers creative thinkers. By focusing on the unique trait of embracing innovation and individuality, Apple effectively set itself apart from its competitors and fostered a loyal customer base. Take Nike's, "Just Do It." This concise phrase encapsulates the brand's spirit of empowerment, encouraging individuals to overcome obstacles and pursue their goals. By tapping into the universal human desire for self-improvement and achievement, Nike's USP resonated with a broad audience, making it a hallmark of successful advertising. Lastly, how about FedEx's, "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight." This straightforward statement communicates the brand's commitment to reliability and speed. By focusing on a single core benefit, FedEx's USP became synonymous with efficient, overnight delivery.

Often, a USP revolves around taking what could be perceived as a negative, and positioning it as a positive. Sometimes, in the case of Mad Men’s Lucky Strike campaign, it can simply turn a feature that all products share into a competitive advantage. Can this really work? In the case of Lucky Strike, Lee Garner Jr. points out, well, the obvious: “But everybody else's tobacco is toasted.” True. But, Draper’s idea is still brilliant. Sure, everyone’s is toasted, but no one’s talking about it.  Lucky Strike can own that positioning and that translates into… “competitive advantage.”  Here, again, a USP serves as the brand’s theme line in “It’s toasted.”

How does this apply to you, the community banker? Yes, you’re smaller than those big nationals and don’t offer all of the big bank bells and whistles. Turn it into a positive, such as the notion that being small is better. Or, maybe your digital experience doesn’t match that of bigger, better-funded banks. Who wants to do business with robots? Certainly not potential customers of yours.

It’s a relatively simple exercise, really. First, and importantly, put yourself in the shoes of that individual who may be reluctant to do business with you. Make a list of “cons” based on what you know about that reluctance. Figure out how to move some of those “cons” to the “pro” side. Once you’ve done that, post some clever ads – many of which you’ll find in our portal – to your social platforms. The beauty of this kind of messaging is that it, as they say in the biz, “challenges assumptions.” It leads the reader to step back and re-examine beliefs/notions they may have about a product or service. It can lead to that “aha” moment that ad folks strive for; that consumer realization that “hey, I never thought about it that way.”  When you get that from your audience, you know you’ve created something truly impactful.

About Bank Marketing Center 

Here at, our goal is to help you with that topical, compelling communication with customers; the messaging — developed by banking industry marketing professionals, well trained in the thinking behind effective marketing communication — that will help you build trust, relationships, and revenue. 

To view our marketing creative, both print and digital – ranging from product and brand ads to social media and in branch signage – visit  You can also contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or via email at As always, I welcome your thoughts.