A Grave Issue

I was standing in Highgate cemetery. My housemate and I had cycled from our flat in Hackney to see Karl Marx’s grave.

I don’t frequent many graveyards, especially not of my own volition, but the £6 price tag seemed a bit steep to me. Is this the going rate? I don’t recall them being that spenny back in Bristol.

Perhaps it was that we were in a smart bit of North London? Maybe this was the number one cemetery on Trip Advisor? Well maybe, but more likely it was that we were in the presence of this famed historical figure, despite the fact he’d been ‘brown-bread’ for over a century.

If the latter is true, it seems a bit harsh that visiting a late loved one should be made more costly, more than a pint more costly, just because an esteemed carcass has been plonked somewhere in the general vicinity.

Either way, we decided to climb over the railings instead.

It must’ve been a pretty bizarre sight to any onlookers. As we did so, it struck me just what confused middle-class rogues we must have appeared – too inquisitive not to see this prized lump of concrete, too skint to do so lawfully.

Once inside, I recalled a school trip to France that took me to Omaha cemetery. There, rows and rows of graves lay in perfect white symmetry as far as the eye could see – each cross or Star of David representing a fallen WWII soldier in a sea of morbid beauty. Were they all religious back then?

The contrast to Highgate couldn’t have been greater. Before me sat tombs in a range of sizes, colours and materials but almost all were united by a grubby finish, chipped edges and overgrown foliage. Some of the trees had uprooted, toppling a number of the headstones, left strewn on the floor, as inanimate as their skeletal counterparts tucked six feet under. I’m not sure I can bring myself to call it a ‘shit cemetery’ but, truth be told, the place was a fucking mess.

Dodging trip hazards in the form of branches and probably flailed human limbs, we reached Big Karl’s grave.

It was easy to spot – at least once the selfie sea had parted –  as it was the biggest one in the place, by quite a way.

This seemed a bit odd to me. Would the father of communism want his posthumous existence to be lived out so ostentatiously? Or are some animals more equal than others?

I thought about this all later on and I got quite pissed off. Did this place not have a gardener? Or at least a headstone picker-upper? If not, what the hell was this dollar going towards? It was annoying enough paying council tax to live on a pot-hole-riddled road, but this was a graveyard. Name me one thing in the world requiring less maintenance than a fucking gravestone? Even if it belongs to Big Karl.

But then I couldn’t decide whether my absent £6 was part of a silent, justified dissidence or a classic case of ‘herein lies the problem’.

As we walked around the cemetery towards the exit, I wondered what would be inscribed on my own tombstone. Almost all I saw before me boasted name and date of birth, making them at close inspection uniquely identifiable but, from afar, the complete opposite – common, unoriginal, almost lost.

I had always liked my name and date of birth. Fortunate really – these two facets of my identity as concrete as the tombstone they’ll one day be slapped upon. They seemed to exist as a triumphant duality – separate entities working together to form a greater whole.

How fitting it was that my Dad, whose life was centred on teaching, reading and basically adoring the English language – something he passed on to me – should have a son born on April 23rd – the day on which Shakespeare was supposedly born and died.

As for my name, my mate at Uni once made a passing comment that will stay with me til death do us part.

Scanning my drivers license, he uncovered an amusing juxtaposition between my given name, Danny Stone, sounding as he thought “like an East-End gangster”, and my middle names, Francis Martineau, recalling in his opinion that of “a French renaissance poet”.

In summary, he looked at me and said: “Well I guess you’re somewhere in between.”

That trip to the cemetery, with its fusion of life and death, has also stuck with me as I try to understand my own identity. Curious, outgoing, quasi-cultured, with an inherent taste for rebellion, an underlying desire to be different and, ultimately, an insatiable confusing about the world in which I live.

Would Don Draper survive at FRUKT?

I like to think Don Draper and I have quite a lot in common.

Maybe it’s the creative genius, sharp dress sense and dashing good looks. Or perhaps the checkered past, underlying personality issues and hints of alcohol dependency.

Either way, since starting at FRUKT, a London-based experiential agency representing my first foray into the world of marketing, I have felt naturally closer to the brilliant yet wholly fictional Creative Director at SC&P.

A year down the line, and with the Mad Men obsession train still gathering pace, I find myself in a perpetual state of comparison between Matthew Weiner’s ultra-realist portrayal and my own fast-paced, high-tech reality.

With the show’s final curtain recently dropped, this fascination has become palpable. How much has the industry has changed? How does my work relate to that of Don? Indeed, with FRUKT growing and Don’s P45 in the post, would he want a job here at FRUKT? Heck, would he even survive?

Like Don, I was plunged into the industry from relative obscurity. And indeed, aside from what I had seen in the early episodes I, quite simply, knew nothing.

I had never prepared a ‘deck’. I thought a ‘millennial’ was some sort of multicolored, sugar-laced confectionary. And a tissue session, well…let’s not go there.

These ‘everyday’ industry terms were all completely alien to me. Had I not been paying attention?

Well, maybe not.

Mad Men begins in 1960, at a time when you could smoke in bars almost as liberally as you could advertise the cigarettes themselves. Don’s biggest client is Lucky Strike.

We see billboards, newspaper ads and Readers Digest coupons. Typewriters, corner offices and artwork designed by hand. It’s traditional advertising in all its glory.

Fast-forward to today. From client services, through planning, creative and design, the structure is still quite similar, but the world is very different.

Google Adwords, relationship marketing, the Instagram economy. E-mail, PDFs, hashtags. It’s 21st century marketing that still feels new yet won’t stand still.

Times change in Mad Men too. It keeps fresh what is, narratively at least, a pretty uneventful drama series. A quiet fascination with the golden age of advertising pulls us through. This is no Breaking Bad. The big pitch wins and historical timestamps providing the thrills in lieu of the meth labs, Mexican drug cartels and machine gun-laden finales.

We see consumers evolving too – the clothes, the hairstyles, the furniture, all reflecting the ever-adapting trends of New York, and indeed the world as a whole.

But what has become clear to me is that the consumer is always evolving. It’s this constant change, reflected subtlety but powerfully in Mad Men, that defines this industry. The ability to adapt is the only way to keep on top.

FRUKT’s mere presence is testament to this. Experiential marketing scarcely existed until the turn of the millennium, and has been cited as a reaction to a market that is overcrowded, and showing no signs of abating.

Perpetuated by the onset of the internet, the active, easily-distracted and downright impatient consumer (that’s YOU!) demands engagement on a more personal and emotional level.

So where does this leave Don?

Will he be swapping the tailored suits for a pair of Hunter wellies? Manhattan with Farringdon? Is it his turn on the beer dolly?

I feel to find the answer you need only to watch one scene from Mad Men’s very first episode.

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.”

This quote instantly resonated with me, and re-surfaced when I started my career.

In the modern, non-stop society of 7 second videos, 140 characters and click-to-order taxis, a new order has emerged that has to weave through the traffic in order to reach the heart of the consumer.

Don shows, within one hour of our meeting him, that he inherently understands this truism, one that has survived for half a century, and will live on forever.

It’s one of the wonders of working for an experiential agency – seeing at first hand, people enjoying their experiences and their interactions with brands.

From Coca-Cola, through Lucky Strike, down to the new app you and your mate dreamt up last night in the pub – make your potential customers happy. Keep your existing customers happy.

Don knows it. So yeah, I think we’d take him. He can sit next to me.