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Mountain Dew and Mad Men: The stories behind the pitches

This season seems to be more about Don Draper’s neuroses than his advertising pitches, but a few of his agency’s clients came to the AMC drama with their own interesting stories.

by Alex Konrad, contributor

Two weeks into this season of Mad Men, we updated you on the products featured in the show with Mad Men: Fictional pitches, real ads. With Jantzen and Pond’s Cold Cream both making memorable debuts, we anticipated a lineup of products exceeding the previous seasons (for their recap, see: Mad Men is back, and so is product placement).

A few weeks later, it’s time to sift through the show’s darker new plotlines and find the corporate gems.

Episode 4: Pond’s, Clearasil, Vicks

The third episode was memorable for everything but products. Episode four, thankfully, brings us more product sport. Pond’s, a Unilever (UL) product, features prominently, as its representatives demand that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce drop Clearasil as a client due to conflict-of-interest. Clearasil, owned by Vicks Chemical, is the account of Pete’s father-in-law Tom, so the conflict hits close to home. Pete parlays the Pond’s play into expansion into the entire Vicks account.

As Fortune noted earlier, Unilever’s sponsorship of Mad Men continues to pay off for its product’s appearance. Unilever says that AMC approached it about using Pond’s, and that the consumer conglomerate will air six themed vignettes during the advertising breaks of the show this season. The company did not disclose terms of any contract involving its product on the show.

Clearasil, however, represents a tougher nut to crack. Vicks Chemical is now a line of products for Procter & Gamble (PG). Clearasil, meanwhile, is now a product of Reckitt Benckiser (RBGPY). Neither company responded to Fortune’s inquiries on the terms of those deals, but it is a pretty safe bet that neither company would be paying for product placement to promote the other.

Episode 5: Honda

Honda (HMC) motorcycles dominate this episode, which ventures into the cultural tensions, and misunderstandings, between American and Japanese businessmen in the 1960s. Honda tries to play Draper off of his rivals in an ad men showdown, and Draper resorts to what we will simply call an unusual strategy for success.

While the bikes themselves look great—especially the somewhat comical sight of Peggy driving a red Honda in circles—the real-life company is keeping mum. A spokesman said the company does not publicly discuss its advertising strategy. Other companies, such as Cadillac, have disclosed when they had no involvement in their product’s participation—and thus no advertising strategy—to discuss.

Episode 6: Life cereal

After an out-of-office success and, of course, a lot of corresponding drinking, Don’s campaign for the reps of Life cereal gets a soggy reception. We liked it more than the one the company preferred, but then again, we aren’t 1960’s cereal executives. The moment is an amusing one, as Don’s volte-face comes courtesy of a surprising source. Peggy, who seems to be perpetually grumpy this season, is not amused.

Life cereal was created in 1961 and is owned by Quaker Oats, which is in turn a division of PepsiCo. Quaker Oats said it was “not surprised” at Life’s appearance on the show and appreciated seeing the product within the context of the 60’s. That said, the company did not pitch the placement of the product in the show.

Episode 7: Samsonite

This episode revolves around sports and luggage. Don rejects a commercial for the luggage-maker Samsonite featuring Joe Namath, and instead picks an ad that revolves around an upcoming fight between Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston. Clay’s domination inspires Draper’s breakthrough in the campaign. Good vision for someone on a serious bender, even by Sterling Cooper standards.

Samsonite’s director of marketing communications said she worked with Mad Men’s props people in the spring, providing period Samsonite ads for set dressing. The company was pleasantly surprised to see its product dominate this episode, though it doesn’t expect the story line to continue. Based on its appearance, Samsonite says it is interested in advertising during the show, as well as sending further props to appear in the plotlines.

Samsonite says it typically doesn’t pay for product placement and did not pay for its appearance in Mad Men. So while you may see some ads during the show in the future, you will not be seeing a Samsonite paid product placement.

Episode 8: Mountain Dew

Trouble with client Mountain Dew leads to another Draper decision with unexpected consequences. The team at Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce, naturally, does a bit of creative research with alcohol. While their concoction—Mountain Dew and vodka—might sound perfect for a dorm room, Peggy dismisses it as an “emergency.” It’s up to Peggy to keep up a semblance of class in the office — three ingredients minimum for a true cocktail, she says.

Mountain Dew’s owner, PepsiCo (PEP), knew that there was a possibility it would appear in the show. According to a spokesperson, AMC producers contacted PepsiCo to let them know about several possible storylines with its products, one of which was the Mountain Dew concept. As such, PepsiCo had advance warning, but it by no means initiated or paid for placement.

PepsiCo says it would welcome future inclusion of its products, but only if they were organic to the show storyline. At present, the Mountain Dew appearance and the season three Bye Bye Birdie segment with Patio cola (precursor to Diet Pepsi) were both organic placements unconnected to any brand integration campaign.

Episode 9: Fillmore Auto Parts

Peggy’s love interest, an activist, takes a shot at Fillmore Auto Parts for its policy in the South. With the civil rights movement well under way, Fillmore refuses to hire black workers. To Peggy, such discrimination reminds her of the kind more standard at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce — discrimination against women. Still, her proposal to have Harry Belafonte perform the Fillmore jingle is nixed by Don — the company wants better sales with men, not a better relationship with a racial group.

In real life, you’d have to trek to Fillmore, CA for a chance of finding a real-life Fillmore Auto Parts, and anything you’d find would not be a large corporation from the 1960s. Even if there were a real-life Fillmore, it would certainly not pay to highlight its racist background. This appears to be an instance where Mad Men called for a company with a precise 1960s problem, and made one up in lieu of another option.

That’s all for now—keep an eye out for those products, and our next update.