August Turak

Author Consultant Speaker

Moving People Means Moving Products

Where did you come from, baby dear? Out of everywhere into here.

Where did you get those eyes so blue? Out of the sky as I came through.

What makes the light in them sparkle and spin? Some of the starry spikes left in.

Where did you get that little tear? I found it waiting when I got here…

George Macdonald

In a recent article for Forbes, Lessons from Mad Men: Sales Tips from Don Draper, I described this clip from Mad Men as the most moving three minutes of television I’ve ever seen. And in an article for Ad Age, What Bolsters the Bottom Line? Selfless Marketing, I alluded to it as an example of how the emergent business trend toward spirituality can be applied to business in a non-denominational, non-sectarian, yet highly effective way. But in this post, I feel compelled to return to this clip yet again in order to examine nostalgia and its business application in an even deeper way.

In his presentation for Eastman Kodak’s slide projector, Don Draper introduces nostalgia, as a “delicate but potent” way to create a “deeper bond” between product and consumer. He says the word “nostalgia” comes from Greek for “the pain from an old wound.”  Nostalgia, according to Draper, evokes something much stronger than memory alone. Nostalgia takes us “backwards and forwards in time” to a place where we “ache” to go again; a place where we “know we are loved.”

Conveyed through family photos, we initially react to Draper’s pitch for nostalgia from a purely humanistic standpoint. However, whether intentional or not, Draper’s presentation also walks the delicate line between the secular and spiritual and, I would argue, his pitch owes much of its potency to this meaningful ambiguity.

My West Virginia Zen master, Richard Rose, called nostalgia the “window to the soul.”  Every tradition from Christianity, to Plato, to mythology, associates the pain of nostalgia with the loss of a Golden Age or Garden of Eden. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, for example, the “old wound” even has a name: Original Sin. It is this Edenesque sense of Home with a capital “H” that is also poignantly hanging in the smoke streaked air surrounding Draper’s presentation, and is responsible for so much of its magic.

As Macdonald’s poem above so wonderfully illustrates, we all long to get back to a place “where we know we are loved” that is not in fact a physical place in space and time. This explains perhaps, why our strenuous attempts to recreate the times, places, and people we so nostalgically pine for usually yield such disappointing results. All New Year’s parties, reunions, and repurchased 1960s Muscle Cars are tinged with sadness because, as Zen likes to say, they are merely “a finger pointing at the moon.”  The physical associations we clothe nostalgia with are merely symbolic of a deeper longing and deeper sense of loss.

But let’s not forget that Draper also describes nostalgia as a time machine: a time machine that can take us both backwards and forwards in time. Every tradition also offers a spiritual Home with a capital “H” that we will ultimately return to; “a place where we know we are loved” eternally. It is this futuristic aspect of nostalgia- hope- that at least partially explains why we never become impervious to nostalgia’s charms no matter how often she disappoints us here on earth.

Of course this is merely my own opinion, but what deeply saddens me about nostalgia is that so few of us ever see through her glittering lure of earthly associations, and so we miss the longing for self-transcendence she is really trying to evoke.

But whether you agree with me or not, Draper’s use of nostalgia in a business setting creates a wonderful opportunity.

First, by playing with both the earthly and spiritual sense of nostalgia, Draper is able to connect Kodak’s slide projector to a spiritual message while avoiding the trap of “going religious.”  Not only is nostalgia a universal human emotion, but the consumer is free to choose a strictly secular interpretation. Draper never comes off as dogmatically preaching and no one is offended. To the extent that he is even aware of the spiritual overtones to his presentation the mood does the selling and therefore all the preaching.

Second, Draper’s presentation demonstrates another way in which this emergent trend toward spirituality in business can be applied without going religious. Whether in advertising, marketing, sales or even leadership we currently rely on, education, entertainment, logic, humor, and at times even coercion to persuade others to follow our lead. But Draper relies on something more fundamental and motivating than all the others combined: He moves people.

In our noisy, over-stimulated, materialistic culture we are all longing to be moved by something bigger than our day to day selfish desires. As Draper says, moving people is “delicate.”  Our message must be authentic and we must never become merely sappy. Yet it is also “potent” as Draper’s presentation so wonderfully demonstrates.

The history of business like everything else has been a painstaking climb up the ladder of human needs. Appealing to our fellow man through spiritual values requires creativity, tact, and a deep commitment to what universally pulls us together, like nostalgia, rather than what doctrinally keeps us apart.  But as Draper demonstrates, appealing to the human soul can be done in a meaningful way and yield a dramatic differentiator and competitive edge. And best of all it does so by appealing not to the lowest common denominator but the highest.

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