Joining Don Draper, Peggy Olsen, and Joan Holloway as a major character on this season of Mad Men is luxury car company Jaguar. The show's ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has been trying to land the Jaguar account and the portrayal of the automaker hasn't been particularly positive, tying prostitution and suicide to the brand. Now the company's top executives have expressed their mixed feelings about the story arc on the website Jalopnik. Here, a brief — and spoiler-filled — guide:
How has Jaguar figured into Mad Men's plot?
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has been vying to represent Jaguar, because, as Don Draper tells the office, "every agency on Madison Avenue is defined by the moment they got their car." Some elements of the plotline have flattered the brand: Don and Joan pay a glamorous visit to a circa-1965 Jaguar dealership, and Don looks unflinchingly cool as he drives a Jag through Manhattan. But much of the portrayal has been unsavory: The ad men take shots at the car's reliability; a Jaguar exec insinuates he'd only hire SCDP if buxom Joan has sex with him; and Lane Pryce attempts suicide by asphyxiating himself in a Jag — only to discover that the car won't start.
Did Jaguar know it would be featured in the series?
The company did not ask to be written into Mad Men, nor does it pay for product placement. The series' story researchers contacted the company when the episodes were being written to nail down details about sixties models and what a Manhattan dealership of the era would have looked like. Jaguar was not told what the storyline would be.
How has Jaguar reacted?
After the episode in which the agency's partners encourage Joan to prostitute herself to a manipulative Jaguar exec to ensure his support for the agency, the company told Ad Age that, while it was "gratifying" to see the car featured in the show, they were "fairly surprised at the turn of events." Perhaps naively, a spokesperson added "we're confident that people know [the philandering executive is] a fictional character." This seemingly laissez-faire attitude earned Jaguar headlines like, "Jaguar is cool looking like total scumbags on Mad Men." Jaguar also set up a special PR team to directly respond to the episodes after they air on Twitter.
What have they said on Twitter?
After the Joan-as-prostitute episode, which also saw Don pitching the brilliant "At last, something beautiful you can truly own" tagline to Jaguar execs and Peggy Olson leaving the company, the company's @JaguarUSA handle commented on the agency's questionable morals, tweeting, "Loved the pitch, didn't love the process. We applaud Peggy leaving SCDP." Jaguar tried to keep things light the next week after car trouble prevented Lane from killing himself in his Jag: "Well, at least it didn't happen in the #EType."
What did the execs write at Jalopnik?
"We are enjoying the brand's role in the show," claim David Pryor and Stuart Schorr, vice presidents at Jaguar North America, going on to describe their mixed emotions at watching the plot unfold — feeling pride when Don first touts Jaguar, then frustration over the hooker-chasing exec. "Our job is to promote the desirability of our cars, not the morality of... fictional characters." Of the tense moment when it looked as if Lane would kill himself in a Jaguar, they write diplomatically: "We have never been so happy to see our car not start." They say they're anticipating this weekend's season finale with "excitement and trepidation."
Do critics think Jaguar is handling the ordeal well?
The company started off in good humor, but has gotten increasingly defensive, says Sean Conner at Yidio. Jaguar needs to lighten up. "Anybody with enough money to buy a modern-day Jaguar" understands that Mad Men portrays "a fictional world set four decades ago," and won't have his judgment colored by the show. That Mad Men uses real brands is one of its most intriguing elements, says Kelly West at Cinema Blend. As a fan, it's fascinating to read Jaguar's candid and amusing reaction to the odd situation.
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