Don Draper is a Dick: Breaking the copywriter code

Andrew Boulton is a senior lecturer on copywriting and creative advertising at the University of Lincoln. He’s also a copywriter with over a decade of scribbling experience at top creative agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

There are certain things that a copywriter must never do. You must never point out to your wife that she has misplaced an apostrophe in your birthday card. You must never sit giggling at your desk while you look up rude words in the dictionary (I do that. ‘Willies’, page 1091).

But most importantly of all, you must never, EVER criticise Don Draper.

To us alphabet monkeys, Don is our Jesus, our Beatles, our Peter Beardsley. We, as a species, want more than anything to be him. To knock back enough booze to drop a silver-back gorilla and still be lucid enough to nail a killer headline before strolling out the building with some cheeky young thing on his arm.

More importantly, like Don, we would love nothing more than to be able to throw a wobbler and refuse to change a single word of our precious copy. To be fair, I’d imagine most of us do that anyway but, unlike Don, we are largely ignored.

Oh yes, Don is a king amongst copywriters. Although, and please brace yourself for the end of this sentence, he is a bit of a dick.

Literally he is a Dick, that being his original name before he hijacked some poor chap’s life and wife. But in the ruder sense of the word, Don Draper is a dick.

Drunk, churlish, massively arrogant and entirely dismissive of his colleagues’ efforts, Don would be an absolute nightmare to work for or with. How Peggy has refrained from caving in his ridiculously handsome face with some garish 1960s furniture is a mystery.

The character of Don Draper strongly resembles a F. Scott Fitzgerald creation – and there were very few characters in his writing that didn’t have enough inner turmoil to sink a pedalo.

Don is a touch like Gatsby, in that he is less a man than he is a carefully constructed social apparition. Also in common with Gatsby is the material success and social adulation that ultimately brings only misery and emptiness. Contentment is an impossibility for Gatsby and, one could argue, for Don.

He also bears a considerable resemblance to Dick Diver, the protagonist from Fitzgerald’s Tender is The Night. Both are accomplished and magnetic individuals. However both are consumed, and ultimately destroyed, by their own brilliance.

Interestingly Diver ends the novel a broken and shambolic man. I’d imagine most Mad Men fans would not be terribly surprised to see Don end up the same way.

But Don most closely resembles those two Fitzgerald creations in that his relationships with women are both passionately compulsive and invariably destructive.

Like Marty McFly’s Polaroid photo in Back To The Future, Don is fading slowly from his own life. By the end of the show, it is hard to imagine there will be much, if anything, of him left. Unlike Marty McFly it is unlikely that he will snog his own mum and escape from a gang of ruffians on a hovverboard.

And yet despite the flaws, the selfishness, the rage and the hopelessness of his stolen existence, he remains the ultimate hero to all copywriters, myself included.

I have attempted to write after a pint and a half of Guinness and not only failed to come up with anything less than awful, I also managed to snap my space bar in half. It seems my typing finger, when fuelled by Irish Stout, is surprisingly powerful.

And while I would not want to swap my life for his tumultuous, complicated and thoroughly anguished existence, it’s still impossible not to wish that, just for a day, you could be Don Draper.

And the first thing I’d do if I was Don? Look up boobies in the dictionary (page 106).


Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. Never buy him a Guinness.

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