Don’t Talk About The Thing. Talk About What’s Behind It.

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 11, 2013 – 6:02 AM

I’ve seen every episode of AMC’s Mad Men, one of my favorite shows of all time.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the show’s caddish anti-hero, plays a 1960s ad executive. When he’s not engaged in a spectacular act of self-sabotage provoked by his messy personal life, no one can pitch a product better. His greatest strength as an advertising pitchman is his deep understanding of the emotion behind the products he’s pitching.

As an example, here’s a clip from Mad Men’s first season. In this clip, Draper is pitching his ad concept for the new “slide wheel” to two executives from Kodak.

Imagine if Draper had done what so many people in business do—pitch the features instead of the benefits. A feature-heavy pitch would have sounded more like this:

“Kodak’s ‘Wheel’ can hold 80 slides, the most in the marketplace. It allows you to go backward and forward, project on any bare wall, and change the order of slides in mere moments. With Kodak’s ‘Wheel,’ you can go on vacation—and have your slides printed within 24 hours of dropping them off at a certified Kodak photo center.” 

Businesses use that feature-centric approach all the time when selling their products. Advocacy organizations do it when promoting their campaigns. Local politicians do it when promoting their initiatives.

Don Draper Mad Men

But Don Draper didn’t even mention the features of the “Wheel.” Instead, he told a story about a mentor named Teddy, which led him directly to the consumer benefit:

“This device…takes us to a place where we ache to go again…It’s called ‘The Carousel.’ It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around, back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”

When speaking about your products, causes, and initiatives, forget about the features for a moment. Ask yourself what’s behind those features. Don’t tell me why I should care that your toothbrush has more bristles than other toothbrushes or that your initiative seeks to reduce urban blight. Look for the benefits behind those features instead. If you do, you might just find that you have a winning message.

A big hat tip to Danny Groner, whose article “5 Presentation Skills Learned From Mad Men” inspired this post. He tweets at @DannyGroner.

Want to learn more about how to be a great communicator? Like my page at to keep up with our latest posts.

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Comments (14)

  1. By Art Aiello:

    I just shared this blog post with my classmates in the storytelling class I’m taking in my master’s program. I love examples like this, and completely agree with you regarding the focus on the emotion.

  2. By Brad Phillips:

    Thank you, Art! I’ve never taken a storytelling class…sounds like it would be a wonderful use of time.

  3. By Hector Hereter:


  4. By James Bigg:

    Thanks for this, Brad – one of the best posts I’ve actually read on here (and the bar is always set high).

    Making people “care” is the biggest challenge in modern marketing, especially with so much noise out there. Tapping into emotion and going beyond the cold, hard facts is an excellent way to give your brand the edge.

    Nicely done.

  5. By Brad Phillips:


    Wow, thank you. I’m glad it came across well, because I really enjoyed writing it! Thank you for the unexpected praise and, as always, for reading.


  6. By John J Kelley:

    Great post, Brad. I had the same thought as Art, immediately thinking of lessons for communicating creative endeavors. It’s something I try to keep in mind each day. It’s not simply a book, some object . . . it’s a story. I have to tell people the story.

  7. By Wayne Bloom:

    Draper’s got nothing on Phillips!

  8. By Brad Phillips:

    Thanks, Wayne. I only wish Phillips looked more like Draper…

  9. By Nancy Crowley:

    Great piece. We just mentioned your book in our new blog on our website. Your book is one of the most valuable resources I own. Thank you!

  10. By Brad Phillips:


    So glad you enjoyed this piece, and thanks for the nice words about the book – so glad to hear it’s of value to you!


  11. By Claudia Deschamps:

    Brad,. I did not know you were a Mad Men fan. The concepts are priceless.
    Here is another Mad Men scene which illustrates a concept for presentation skills. Remember when Joan is coaching her husband on how to get accepted to a psychology program? She brings out of him recollections of his past and once he does that, he’s got it! She points out how she has seen many executives crash and burn because the sound like machines, with vague and dry concepts. Using personal, even emotional elements in a presentation, is so much more powerful! .

  12. By Brad Phillips:


    Great memory! You’re right – the personal triumphs over the abstract almost every time.

    Thanks for your comment and for reminding me of that scene.


  13. By Jeff Domansky:

    Brad, thank you for a wonderful post and an invaluable insight as always.

  14. By Restaurants, chefs, foodies: Tie publicity into these food trends:

    […] Brad Phillips, aka Mr. Media Training, says, “Don’t talk about the thing. Talk about what behind it.” […]

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