'Mad Men' gets dark, racy with Jaguar brand

The automaker has mixed feelings as AMC's drama focuses on suicide attempts in unreliable luxury vehicles and prostitution with lecherous car execs.

By TheWeek.com Jun 7, 2012 12:25PM

Joining Don Draper, Peggy Olsen and Joan Holloway as a major character on this season of AMC's (AMCX) "Mad Men" is luxury car company Jaguar (JGFCF). The show's ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has been trying to land the Jaguar account, and the portrayal of the automaker hasn't been particularly positive, tying prostitution and suicide to the brand. Now the company's top executives have expressed their mixed feelings about the story arc on the website Jalopnik.

Here's a brief and spoiler-filled guide.

How has Jaguar figured into the plot?
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has been vying to represent Jaguar because, as Don Draper tells the office, "every agency on Madison Avenue is defined by the moment they got their car." Some elements of the plot have flattered the brand: Don and Joan pay a glamorous visit to a circa-1965 Jaguar dealership, and Don looks unflinchingly cool as he drives a Jag through Manhattan. But much of the portrayal has been unsavory: The ad men take shots at the car's reliability. A Jaguar exec insinuates he'll hire Sterling only if buxom Joan has sex with him. And Lane Pryce attempts suicide by asphyxiating himself in a Jag, only to discover that the car won't start.

Did Jaguar know it would be featured in the series?
The company did not ask to be written into "Mad Men," and it doesn't pay for product placement. The series' story researchers contacted the company when the episodes were being written, to nail down details about 1960s models and what a Manhattan dealership of the era would have looked like. Jaguar was not told what the storyline would be.

How has Jaguar reacted?
After an episode in which the agency's partners encourage Joan to prostitute herself to a manipulative Jaguar exec to ensure his support for the agency, the company told Ad Age that, while it was "gratifying" to see the car featured in the show, they company was "fairly surprised at the turn of events." Perhaps naively, a spokesperson added, "We're confident that people know (the philandering executive is) a fictional character." This seemingly laissez-faire attitude earned Jaguar headlines like "Jaguar is cool looking like total scumbags on 'Mad Men.'" Jaguar also set up a special PR team to respond directly on Twitter to the episodes after they air.

What has been said on Twitter?
After the Joan-as-prostitute episode, which also featured Don pitching the brilliant "At last, something beautiful you can truly own" tagline to Jaguar execs and Peggy Olson leaving the company, the company's @JaguarUSA handle commented on the agency's questionable morals, tweeting: "Loved the pitch, didn't love the process. We applaud Peggy leaving SCDP." Jaguar tried to keep things light the next week after car trouble prevented Lane from killing himself in his Jag: "Well, at least it didn't happen in the #EType."

What did the execs write at Jalopnik?
"We are enjoying the brand's role in the show," say David Pryor and Stuart Schorr, the vice presidents at Jaguar North America, going on to describe their mixed emotions at watching the plot unfold, feeling pride when Don first touts Jaguar, then frustration over the hooker-chasing exec. "Our job is to promote the desirability of our cars, not the morality of . . . fictional characters." Of the tense moment when it looked as if Lane would kill himself in a Jaguar, they write diplomatically: "We have never been so happy to see our car not start." They say they're anticipating this weekend's season finale with "excitement and trepidation."

Do critics think Jaguar is handling the ordeal well?
The company started off in good humor but has gotten increasingly defensive, says Sean Conner at Yidio. Jaguar needs to lighten up. "Anybody with enough money to buy a modern-day Jaguar" understands that "Mad Men" portrays "a fictional world set four decades ago" and won't have his judgment colored by the show. That "Mad Men" uses real brands is one of its most intriguing elements, says Kelly West at Cinema Blend. As a fan, West finds it fascinating to read Jaguar's candid and amusing reaction to the odd situation.

Sources: Ad Age,  A.V. ClubJalopnik, TwitterUSA Today, Yidio, Cinema Blend

More from The Week

Jun 7, 2012 3:36PM
this is an accurate portrayal of the car industry & ad execs not in the 60's, but today! Just ask any female ad executive who works on an automobile account.  
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