With a new spread in Vanity Fair, a glowing endorsement by Oprah and another major win at the recent Emmy awards, the popular '60s-era AMC television series “Mad Men” has become firmly rooted in the mainstream. But the show’s quirky characters have been showing up in another “stream” over the course of the last year, as well, thanks to a fast-growing “fan fiction” phenomenon on the microblogging site Twitter.
As with all things “Mad Men,” the in-character tweeting craze began with the show’s protagonist, ad man Don Draper, or in this case @Don_Draper, a Twitter account launched by Paul Isakson, from Minneapolis, who truly is in advertising and marketing
“The start of it was a bit of an accident,” says Isakson, who has tweeted as actor Jon Hamm’s smoldering character for more than a year. “I had the idea to create the account as season two was kicking off , but decided to sit on it to make sure I really wanted to do it.”
Then a funny thing happened.
Isakson mistakenly “followed back” a handful of people on Twitter while logged in as @Don_Draper and immediately, word got out that Matthew Weiner’s masterful creation was alive and well on Twitter.
@Don_Draper’s list of followers quickly began to grow — along with a good bit of speculation as to whether the account was officially associated with AMC or not — and a few days later, @Joan_Holloway and @PeggyOlson came on the Twitter scene.
The three accounts were briefly shut down as the creators of “Mad Men” and Twitter tried to sort out who these people were and why they had suddenly commandeered AMC’s intellectual property on the social networking site. But good sense — or perhaps good cents (hey, who’s to argue with free publicity?) — prevailed and the fan fiction floodgates were cranked open.
Calling all 'Mad Men' (and women)
At this point, there are close to 70 “Mad Men”-related accounts on Twitter, from big guns like Sterling Cooper agency ad men Roger Sterling, Pete Campbell and Sal Romano, to smaller artillery like Hollis, the elevator operator; Don and Betty’s son Bobby; and Chauncey, Duck Phillips’ long-lost Irish setter.
Secretaries, housewives, Sterling Cooper clients and secret personae (Dick Whitman, anyone?) are all represented on the site, with new characters popping up each time an episode airs.
When Betty Draper’s father Gene died a few episodes ago, @genes_ghost immediately appeared on Twitter.
Many of the show’s regulars have several incarnations. There’s not just @Betty_Draper and @bettydraper and @BettyDraper_, there’s also @BadBettyDraper, a slightly naughty version of Don Draper’s repressed wife, who instead of tweeting about meatloaf and maternity girdles, talks about drinking, smoking and reading “The Kinsey Report” to the kids.
The cast of creative characters even includes inanimate objects such as @BoylanSeltzer, a bottle of sparkling water that comments on the comings and goings of the ad agency and @TheAntFarm, a fictional “renegade” ant that began sharing office crumbs — metaphorical and otherwise — after Don Draper accidentally smashed open the insect farm during a meeting.
Tweeting as a Xerox machine
Bob, a 54-year-old computer scientist from Patagonia, Ariz., who asked that his last name not be used, tweets as @Xerox914, the agency's photocopy machine.
“I’ve been an avid ‘Mad Men’ fan since the first episode and was just enthralled by the realism,” he says. “And right about the time I discovered this whole second realm on Twitter, the Xerox machine showed up. So I elected to appoint myself as the machine. I used to use that model when I was in junior college and it always seemed to have a mind of its own.”
Some “Mad Men” tweeters have definitely taken creative license: @Gene_S_Draper, one of three Twitter accounts representing the new Draper baby (named after grandpa), sounds much more like a Brooklyn dockworker than an infant. But others work hard to stay true to their television counterparts.
“I usually watch the show with a laptop so I can take notes,” says Helen Klein Ross, a creative director and copywriter from Manhattan who tweets as Betty Draper and a handful of other characters.
“I’m very persnickety about the details. I want to be true to character, true to period, true to time. I want my followers to believe the Betty Draper they see on Twitter is the same Betty Draper they see on TV.”
Ross admits, though, the Twitter medium does allow for some breathing room.
“‘Mad Men’ exists in these caverns of silence, in the looks and the asides and the long draws on the cigarette,” she says. “But what people are thinking happens on Twitter. We give the audience a different dimension on the character. We fill in the gaps for an audience that isn’t used to having gaps.”
Mad about you
From the tens of thousands of followers and the messages they send, Twitter users seem to be just as mad for the ‘Mad Men’ tweeters as they are for the characters on the show.
“People would invite Don out for a drink and some women would get a little bit flirty,” says Isakson of the tweets he received during his stint as the swoon-worthy Madison Avenue executive (due to time constraints, he’s recently passed the mantle on to someone else).
“They would DM him (direct message) and try to tease information out of him, but I’d stay true to character and either ignore them or be a little bit aloof. Then some of the women would get even more direct, more aggressive, and try to engage him in some flirty action.”
Carri Bugbee, who tweets as the “blindingly earnest” character Peggy Olson — who rose from the secretarial pool to become an ad copywriter — says her 16,000 followers haven’t tried to take her to bed as much as take her under their wing.
“People love to give Peggy advice,” says Bugbee, owner of a marketing/PR firm in Portland, Ore.
“They love to tell her to watch out for Father Gill and to get away from Pete Campbell because he’s mean.
"They want to give her fashion and etiquette advice, tell her who to talk to, how to date, who to watch out for. And of course, they want to know whether she’s going to be smoking more pot.”
Not surprisingly, many fans think they’re tweeting back and forth with actors from the show.
“People will write wishing, wondering, hoping that I’m January Jones,” the fetching actress who plays Betty Draper, says Ross. “Even PR people, who should know better.”
Gwen Beattie, a 30-year-old fundraiser from Arlington, Va., who follows TV-based Twitter characters from other shows such as “The Office” and “Glee,” says she prefers the creativity of the “Mad Men” bunch.
“They’ve set a pretty high bar as far as fictional characters tweeting,” she says. “It’s tremendously clever.”
But the appeal doesn’t just hinge on the show or the fact the Twitter characters remain true to its 1960s sensibility.
“It’s good because the people aren’t really connected to the show,” she says. “There’s not some greater purpose like driving viewers or tweeting about some promotion. If someone in marketing was doing it they’d have a different goal.”
But for some, marketing isn’t entirely off script.
Ross, who has more than 20,000 followers as @BettyDraper, sees the “Mad Men” role-playing as a new form of “twittertainment,” which she believes will become a trend (so much so, she’s recently launched a new business based on the concept, BrandFictionFactory.com).
“I think ‘Mad Men’ on Twitter is an enormous vehicle for not only entertainment but marketing entertainment,” she says. “It’s a great case study.”
Bugbee, who recently won a “Shorty Award” (given out by Sawhorse Media) for her tweets as @PeggyOlson, also sees the potential that microblogging holds for clients.
“This is a way Twitter can help build brands but in a more subtle, less direct-markety sort of way. Plus it’s a great way to hone your writing skills. I tell marketers if I can stay in character for a person who tweets from 1963, I can stay on message with their brand.”
A few ego clashes
As one might expect from a group of people pretending to be highly-ambitious, Type A advertising execs, there have been a few ego clashes among Twitter’s "Mad Men," many of whom have connected, virtually or otherwise.
“People got involved for different reasons,” says Isakson. “A few were doing it as true fans of the show and some did it because they thought it could lead to celebrity.”
The various agendas — and personalities — have resulted in some “behind-the-scenes weirdness” says Isakson, but not enough to spoil the “Mad Men” party.
Although there is a certain 53-year-old software company owner from Alpharetta, Ga., who seems a bit tired of the hubbub.
His name? Donald Draper.
“I like the ‘Mad Men’ series but … I do not work in advertising or cheat on my wife,” Draper recently posted to his @DonDraper Twitter account. “Sorry!”
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