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NFTs? Crypto? The metaverse? What would Don Draper think of adland today?

Don Draper's likely to be bewildered by adland today.

Between NFTs, crypto and the metaverse, marketers are being dazzled by all the shiny new objects available to them in their creative arsenal. The Drum asked Zulu Alpha Kilo’s chief creative and founder Zak Mroueh to pen a parody op-ed about it. If you’ve seen his agency’s website and viral films, you know he’s always game to poke fun at our industry.

In our current age of revivals and reboots (Dexter, Sex and the City, Gossip Girl), an important question arises: how would Don Draper survive in today’s advertising landscape? Matthew Weiner, if you’re reading this, here’s my pitch for a one-episode return of your iconic series.

Let’s recap. The seventh and final season in 2015 ended with Don on a California hilltop meditating with hippies. Draper smiles peacefully and the scene cuts to Coca-Cola’s iconic 1971 commercial ‘I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.’

Matt, my revival picks up shortly thereafter and confirms what we all presumed from the series finale: Don has returned to Manhattan, joined Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s rival, McCann Erickson, and created one of the all-time great ads. Don is basking in glory as industry press have anointed Coca-Cola’s ‘The Hilltop’ the ad to beat at Cannes. Our creative director protagonist has been reborn. But while pulling yet another all-nighter on a pitch, he finds himself tripping on an amphetamine cocktail.

This trip is bad. Real bad. To his horror, Don finds himself transported to the ad agency of the future. It’s a multi-platform, cross-cultural, silo-shattering, non-binary, WFH-hybrid agency model, none of which means anything to Don. No matter. He is on an enlightened plane. He just created the world’s best spot. He is the king of the ad universe. Nothing can knock him off his throne, not even the future.

The computer screen before him flashes to reveal multiple creative heads all looking at one another à la The Brady Bunch.

After an exhausting onslaught of Zoom meetings, it becomes clear to Don that this really can’t be the future. It must be a crazy parallel universe. He is convinced of that when his creatives start envisioning ‘the metaverse.’ From what Don can decipher, the ‘verse’ isn’t some new name for a jingle, it’s a higher level of human existence within computers. Why live one life when you can create, or rather ‘curate,’ a better one? While Don certainly knows a thing or two about leading a double life, he just can’t make heads or tails of this one.

A voice shouts at him through the computer screen. “Don! We need to be an early adopter in this metaverse,” to which he gives his classic handsome yet confused grin. The talking head continues. “We need a big idea here, Don. I got it. An NFT!”

Perplexed, Don replies: “A WTF?”

“No, a non-fungible token,” explains the talking head, as all the other boxed-in faces nod in group-think agreement. “Things that can be bought and sold in the metaverse – clothes, entertainment, bling. Like in the real world, only way cooler.”

NFT. VR. AR. QR code. SEO. UX. The meeting continues in acronyms. And when they do use words, it’s crypto, blockchain, crowdsource, gamify and meme. Don can’t grasp how any of this applies to the advertising world he’s always known.

Cut to Don running through the halls, screaming: “What’s vaping? And why are there no ashtrays in this agency? Get me out of this ad hell hole!” As if on cue, a monitor in the lobby tees up a dude identified as Mark Z to explain to our frazzled former ad great what is coming. “Lots of things that are physical today, like screens, will just be holograms in the future. You won’t need a physical TV,” says Mark Z.

But I like doing TV spots, Don thinks to himself. And print. And outdoor. And radio.

Don finally comes to the realization that the industry that he used to know and love for all its simplicity is now vast, complicated and going where no ad has gone before – specifically on some billionaire’s branded rocket ship.

Feeling completely overwhelmed and out-of-date, Don runs up to the office rooftop, ready to finally put an end to his nightmare.

And here, in the last act of the reboot, the series comes full circle. It ends the way so many fans thought it would: with Don taking the biggest leap of his career off the edge of his office building. Falling, like his silhouette in the opening credits, he’s about to hit rock bottom when suddenly he’s transformed into a computer-generated, three-dimensional version of himself.

Oh well. There is no escaping the future. Welcome to the metaverse, Don.

As the episode ends, these words appear on the screen: “In the crazy industry that advertising has become, constantly in flux and ever-changing, only one thing keeps us in check amongst the madness: the idea. That is what matters. It always has.”

Matthew, have your people call my people. Speaking of which, you might want to change the name from Mad Men to Mad People. It’s 2021, after all.

Zak Mroueh is chief creative officer and founder of Zulu Alpha Kilo.

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