Publishers: Get Your Books in Don Draper’s Hands

Last night was the second-season premiere of the TV series Mad Men. I watched the series devoutly last year; this year, it has gotten such a huge press buildup that I was almost sick of it before it aired.

Last night’s episode didn’t push the storylines forward too much, since it needed to reacclimate viewers to where the characters stand. But there was one significant theme: Don Draper, at 36, is feeling older. He seems prepped, mentally and physically, for a midlife crisis. So when he’s having lunch in a bar and sees the fellow next to him reading Meditations in an Emergency, a collection of Frank O’Hara‘s poems, it makes an impression. Later in the show we see a beauty shot of the book’s cover as Draper himself reads it intently.

I clicked over to Amazon to check the book’s sales rank a few minutes after Draper read the book. A rather mediocre No. 15,565. This morning, at 8:30 a.m., the book was ranked No. 161. That probably represents only 50 or 100 copies sold, but it’s a pretty fantastic leap for a 50-year-old book of poems. Since Mad Men is set in the early 1960’s, publishers are obviously limited in their product-placement opportunities. But I’m sure all of you can think of some good books to get in the hands of some current TV characters.

M Todd

Since my spouse and I are in the advertising business, Madmen is at the top of our list of must watch TV. Since I was 7 in 1962, the book was not familiar, but it only proves product placement works.

If just showing a book a few seconds could have that reaction, I wonder how cigarette sales are doing? After about 15 minutes of watching the show all I can think about is having a smoke and knocking back a scotch.

The show also makes me long for the days when you could smoke in your office, sit in a bar without someone singing Karaoke, have a drink with lunch and not feel bad about red meat.

Madmen reminds me this country's "Nanny State" mentality really has made this country a lot less fun. At least for white males anyway.


Along the same line, my wife was watching General Hospital last week and one of the characters was playing a piano piece that caught my attention. He said it was "Nocturne" by Billy Joel.

I immediately found it on line and was surprised it was on the Cold Spring Harbor album which I once owned. I wonder how it's sales are going now.


M Todd-

Hilarious ending. At 26, I long for those days, and I have never experienced them.

Hoosier Paul

Stephen, I think you're giving too much credit to the visual placement of the book, and not enough to the auditory element. I was one of those 50 or 100 people who ordered it after Mad Men's premiere last night. But I didn't do so just because Don Draper read it. I did so because of that gorgeous poem featured in the voice-over near the end of the show.

Another factor: I'm already inclined toward poetry. There's quite a lot of it on my bookshelves. For example, from my computer desk I can only see a sliver of my bookcases in the next room, and right now, looking over at that sliver, I spot C.K. Williams, Adam Zagajewsi, Pablo Neruda and Jennifer Michael Hecht.

So, two lessons for publishers wanting to do a little product placement: first, make sure the show's audience matches up with your market. Second, don't just settle for a visual shot of your book; get the producers to incorporate some of the text into the show!



The NY Public Library has one copy of O'Hara's book, which now has six 'holds' (people who have requested it.) I certainly hadn't checked it last week, but I doubt that demand is normally that high.


Proof that product placement works. Now if only we could get no one tell the executives.


Because Exodus figured prominently in the 1st season, the 1961 Leon Uris bestseller Mila 18, about the Warsaw uprising, might find a place. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in 1962 and had just published The Winter of Our Discontent ... surely a resonant title for this season's themes. For some reason, books about Italy or Italians were quite popular during Camelot: The Agony and the Ecstasy and Daughter of Silence. Because of the obscenity trial, The Tropic of Cancer showed up on a lot of bedside tables.


Can we give a lot of TV characters some Suze Orman books to read?

Seriously, I'd be interested in knowing how many extra copies of the books that the characters on "Lost" (mostly Sawyer) are seen reading.


I bet Betty Fridan's The Feminine Mystique ends up making an appearance in season 3. Since it was published in 1963, it will have to wait for the next time leap forward in the Mad Men universe.


When placement works via Amazon it's possible to search by the placement context only ('mad men poetry book') and get a short-cut hand-crafted link to the item's detail page but that hasn't happened yet. Oprah's book club is still much more effective. I've seen these for books mentioned on NPR and NY Times Op-Ed pages.


The TV show Lost has featured a lot of books, several by Stephen King, whom the writers have explicitly credited for some ideas.

Mark Harrison

It would be interesting if someone (either with a good relationship with Amazon to get at historical data or a lot of time on their hands) could track placements vs. rankings.

I'd be interested to know whether book sales jumps were correlated with audience sizes, or whether books on mid-life crises are disproportionately attractive to TV audiences :-)


What about Atlas Shrugged, from last year's season? Is there a way to check Amamzon for that? It was mentioned in several episodes.


Last week 'Meditations in an Emergency' was ranked #385,524.


Amazing. I thought the same thing while watching last night: How many people are going to buy this book?

I have a placement idea: Show a shot of Barney's work desk from "How I Met your Mother," but this time include Robert Greene's "The 48 Laws of Power."