Posted by on July 27, 2010 at 7:00 am  Retro, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4
Jul 272010

In “Public Relations,” a Glo-Coat television ad brings Don Draper notoriety among his marketing peers.  He explains to an Advertising Age reporter that his approach is to hook the viewer with a movie-like narrative so that they are receptive to the product information.

However, I’d argue that whether he realizes or not, Don Draper’s inspiration for the ad are the recent events in his very own life. 

First of all, the idea of imprisonment is used as a theme in the Glo-Coat ad.  We see a small boy in a jail cell which turns out to be a kitchen.  In Season 3’s “The Fog,” Don awaits the arrival of his third child while in the company of a uniformed prison guard.  Thus, a clear connection exists for Don between family responsibilities and a lack of freedom.

The small boy shown in the floor wax ad is Don himself.  This wouldn’t be the first time Don has been compared to a child.  Glen Bishop was the neighborhood kid whose crush on Betty played out as more creepy than cute.  In Season 2’s “The Inheritance” Don and Glen are linked in a number of ways.   Betty finds Glen in the Draper’s backyard playhouse carrying a Pan Am fight bag.  That same episode ends with Don jetsetting to California.  Betty dresses Glen in Don’s clothes.  And, just like Don, Glen makes it a point to express his dislike for ham.  Furthermore, in “Public Relations,” Don boasts to a Wall Street Journal reporter that the Sterling-Cooper takeover from the previous year forced him to “holster up his guns.”  The boy in Don’s Glo-Coat ad is dressed like a cowboy.  

I’d further argue that the housewife depicted in Don’s ad is a brunette version of Betty (unconsciously or not, Don wouldn’t be so obvious as to make her a blond).  The woman uses Glo-Coat to keep footprints off of her kitchen floor.  While watching the ad in his apartment, Don is conspicuously shown shining his black shoes.  I don’t think it’s too large a leap to say that it’s HIS shoes the housewife (Betty) doesn’t want marking up her kitchen floor.  Don’s banishment from the Draper home is a major subplot in “Public Relations”  (the climax of which takes place in the kitchen). There’s a cut to Don with a  vindictive smile on his face when the housewife first appears as if he takes perverse pleasure in the caricature he’s created. 

Don wasn’t completely happy about his  life of domestic imprisonment.  But he’s nonetheless bitter and angry about that life being abruptly taken away from him and given to Henry Francis (who, to Don, is now the prisoner in Betty’s “jail”).   It’s that bitterness which serves as the muse for Don’s celebrated television ad.

Don’s art imitates his life.

NOTE:  A real Glo-Coat ad from the 1960’ promises that product will keep black scuff marks off your kitchen floor.


  33 Responses to “Projections”

  1. Love the connection between Glo-Coat and the shine box.

  2. Wow. Excellent observation, and you've brought out ideas that I hadn't thought of (the whole Don as the child, Betty is the housewife) Also, the actual Glo-Coat ad is hilarious! I vaguely remember this from child hood!

  3. Isn't floor wax the ultimate symbol of female oppression in the middle of the 20th century? The way the women in those commercials fixated on it?

  4. @#3 Glass Darkly: Isn’t floor wax the ultimate symbol of female oppression

    The ad is certainly anachronistic. But in this context from Don's perspective I don't see the housewife as the oppressed one.

  5. @Matt Maul

    Oh, right, I know Don doesn't see it that way, but he is selling the product to women — 8 year old boys aren't the market. I think most women past a certain age have a sense memory of it as part of being a housewife or mom — or seeing their moms do it. Sure, Don sees himself as the kid in a cage, but he knows which person in that dynamic wants to avoid being a bitch to her family over the state of the kitchen floor — and will now be tempted to buy the stuff.

    Washing and waxing a floor is a thankless job, really, or it least would have been at that time. It culminates in the rest of the family either being banned from the room or yelled at for messing up the floor. It can make a woman a real Betty. 🙂

    Advertising was, and still is to a certain extent, about pretending that if you use a certain line of products that household drudgery will cease to exist and, if you're a female, you can then get to be fun mom.

  6. Not to nit pick, but good old Don loves his ham, unlike creepy Glen who does not. There is even a scene, one of many about pork, where Betty promises him that there will always be ham. It's a running joke on this show.

  7. @#6 suz… RE: Don and ham:

    I'll defer to any and all on this one. But it's been my distinct impression that Don's attitude toward ham is, at best, ambivalent. He once snidely referenced it as Archie Whitman’s favorite food. Dick Whitman’s prostitute birth mother threatened to boil Archie’s dick in “hog fat.” Don referred derisively to the new owners of Sterling-Cooper as running a “sausage factory.” And Don blanched at Connie’s suggestion in S3 that under new management, he’d be a “prized pig.” Maybe it's a love/hate thing — kinda like getting slapped by a prostitute 😉

  8. I'm trying to figure out what the series/movie was being referenced in the Glo-Coat commercial. At first 'High Noon' came to mind, but that came out in 1952. The use of the pendulum clock on the wall and jailbars made me think of High Noon.

    Don mentions he intentional wanted viewers to believe the start of teh commercial was a continuation of the movie or program (at least at first) and what's happening now (rough paraphrase re-cap).

    If it was one of the many television series popular in that time frame I can't quite place it. Any thoughts or conjectures on this appreciated. Perhpas a small point in the larger flow of nuances, memes and glimmers of what S4 has in store for us.

  9. Matt's right.

    Don's father was the fan of ham. I think that Don's tastes in food run, most of the time, from ambivalence (Celia: "You don't eat nothing"), to whatever is most appropriate for him in the setting in which he finds himself.

    Don will eat Betty's meatloaf, Gloria's cooking, or lobster when he's at a business dinner in Baltimore. To him, there's no difference. It's all just food to him.

    Excellent post, Matt. I too was struck by the image of the small boy in jail that preceded the Glo-Coat ad, and wrote down when I first saw it: "Let him out of there."

    Terrific. 🙂

  10. Hey Anne B, thanks for the nice feedback (you too Deb and Therese)…

    FWIW, Celia's remark to Don: “You don’t eat nothing,” comes on the heels of her pointing out a plate of pork chops she had prepared for him. 😉

  11. "vindictive smile"? Where's that coming from? I saw it as a pleased (verging on smug) smile at *his* ad appearing on TV, the ad which has brought him success and acclaim. Of course he's pleased, and of course he smiles. I read nothing vindictive into it.

  12. and the whole Sugarberry Hams stunt… Matt Weiner loves ham! a thing like that…

    wonder if that's why they went with Jon as the lead…

  13. Don definitely loves ham, as evidenced by him finding a pineapple covered ham in the fridge and his eyes lighting up with excitement. Betty: "Don that's raw".

    Also there is her "there will always be ham" line when she goes back to work.

    Likely ham is special for Don because it was his father's favourite. It would be a special ocasion food during his Depression era chilhood.

    My parents were kids during WWII rationing and even though oranges were every day foods for me as a child, they were NOT to be taken for granted as my parents had them only at Christmas growing up. Sixty-five years later, oranges are still "special" to them. Don may feel the same way about ham.

    Or it's a Jon Hamm joke…

  14. Hello all,

    Ummm… I thought I should add an extra angle to the "Don's ad" debate. Matthew Weiner mentioned that he was inspired by a childhood memory. It's in an interview he did with Fresh Air's Terry Gross, found here;

    They also cover a lot of other interesting subjects like Sal's Patio pitch & building a new set for SCDP.

    Hope it's helpful,


  15. @Heather, that interview was great wasn't it. I was so annoyed when 2 people at work tried to talk to me during it, thank goodness my boss didn't come over.

  16. Hi again,

    ITA Dark Peggy. That interview provided a satisfying Mad Men fix on the drive home. I sat outside my house to listen to the scene with Sal & Kitty because I didn't want to miss anything :}

    I have to be careful w my MM addiction @ work — so sites like Basket of Kisses & Tom & Lorenzo are a great help. I can see how frustrating it would be to have folks walking in mid-sentence. At least my hubby has learned not to interrupt when I'm watching!


    P.S. How cool was Matthew when Terry asked about the SNL sketch?!

  17. I think of the commercial being in the style of a movie in general, a little High Noonish, meant to fool or slightly confuse the viewer into continuing to watch. Why is there a western scene in the middle of my Voyage to The Bottom of the Sea? What the fu…oh! Like the Energizer commercials a several years back.

    Which is sorta how the Thanksgiving meal scene played for a few. Who ARE these peop-oh! Damn, Betty, you went all matronly! And that matronly trend continued, like she's playing dress-up or trying to be a better match for her husband. The exception was the little pink nighty which was cute as hell!

  18. @11 berkowit28 – “vindictive smile”? Where’s that coming from? I saw it as a pleased (verging on smug) smile at *his* ad appearing on TV, the ad which has brought him success and acclaim.

    While I defer to all regarding Don's attitude toward ham products :), I stand by characterization of Don's smile.

    IF one see's the ad as simply an ad, then I get where you're coming from.

    However, Alfred Hitchcock used to describe how juxtaposing the same image of a smiling Jimmy Stewart in "Rear Window" would convey a different motivation to the actor depending upon WHAT the shot was juxtaposed with.

    That said, I see the ad as inspired by Don's anger over his divorce. AND the shot of a grinning Don comes right AFTER the housewife appears in the ad (NOT when the ad first starts to run on Don's TV and NOT when the surprise twist of the "jailbars" actually being an overturned chair is revealed). So, I detected something different than you did behind that "smug" grin. FWIW, I could be wrong about this, but I don't think I've EVER seen Don smiling proudly before at examples of his work. And I detected a glint in his eye that seemed echoed later when he grins while being interviewed by the WSJ reporter.

    But, to each his own. That's what makes it fun!

  19. Steve, I'm with you. I went right to High Noon (with Betty look-alike Grace Kelly)

  20. "Washing and waxing a floor is a thankless job, really, or it least would have been at that time. It culminates in the rest of the family either being banned from the room or yelled at for messing up the floor. It can make a woman a real Betty."

    @#5 Ah yes, Glass Darkly, many's the time I remember the time being banished to my room until the floor wax had dried and many's the time I can remember the frustration of my mother when one of us kids left footprints on the floor our cleaning lady had just washed, waxed and polished with an electric buffer.

  21. Great writeup, Matt! There's so much food for thought in this episode that I'm still mulling it over.

  22. DL: You could well be right about Shane, another iconic western that could well have served as inspiration for the Glo-Coat ad. The reason I flashed to High Noon was the cuts between the jail bars and clock, the 'let me out' line, etc. Also as you mentioned, the Grace Kelly/Betty juxtapositions.

    Then there's Don's "I could die of boredom or strap on my pistols' line while recounting how SCDP came to be with the WSJ reporter.

    MM: As to Don's cryptic smile, in that scene he opens his portfolio and pulls out what looks to be one of the Jantzen print ads. Perhaps that was Don's light bulb moment when the inspiration for his remake of their image became clear.

    That was my take on it anyway. What's so rich and inspiring with this series. It's use of symbolic language, cultural touch stones, etc has depth.

  23. All I know is that when I was a kid, I wanted a magic clear plastic shield to fly me over the floor!

  24. @Steve #23: Not to beat it to death, but to keep myself honest, I just ran the scene again:

    – Don sits on sofa, TV on in front of him

    – The Glo-Coat commerical comes first comes on, cut to Don looking interested (no smile)

    – “Jail” is revealed to be in kitchen with boy saying “Let me out of here”, cut to Don lighting a cigarette (still no smile)

    – Housewife comes in kitchen, turns on light, zoom in on her as she addresses the camera, cut to Don with a smile coming across his face

    Don reviews the portfolio with daylight showing outside (making it much later), no smile because Don is eating something while turning pages in the folder

  25. […] in the comment section of Matt Maul’s entry, Projections, we got into a discussion on the Glo-Coat commercial. I commented  that I didn’t think there […]

  26. Matt, in general I like the post.

    The Glo-Coat commercial is a valid allegory for Don’s former domestic situation. The close-up of the reporter’s shorthand notation symbols on the writing pad as Don relates his concept of using a movie narrative to segue into the floor wax ad tips the hand just enough. Your detailed references to Glen, the prison, and the gun holster make sense. And I agree that the shoe shining is important, (however I’m working out in my head a slightly different take on its ultimate significance) but I have to disagree like a few of the others upthread about Don’s “vindictive” smile. I think that’s a mischaracterization of his expression and misrepresents his attitude about Betty and the divorce.

    I think the slight smile we see is the self-satisfied grin of an artist impressed with his own handicraft. Don took his feelings regarding his marriage and his former life and spun them into a loose narrative that plays like a movie that morphs into an effective salespitch. The smile he shows when he sees the housewife is similar to the smile a kid gets when he pulls off a card trick or when a magician artfully presents the reveal, or the prestige (in the old school French definition of the word). He’s just pleased with his skill and cleverness.

    In order for the expression to convey vindictiveness, Don has to consciously be aware the housewife represents Betty and has to think that her portayal in the ad is negative. I don’t see it. The cowboy is playing pretend jail beneath the table, he’s not really be punished or anything. The housewife is shown smiling and content with her super floor wax (maybe because it’s also a dessert topping!); she’s not some unreasonable, controlling shrew. She just likes a clean floor. It’s a very favorable depiction, I didn’t see any hint of a hidden grievance or spiteful subtext in that scene at all.

    You assert Don is “bitter and angry about that life being taken away from him and given to Henry Francis”. Well, I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t think Don is feeling either of those emotions very strongly, yet if he is, not for that specific reason. I feel that type of emotional assessment is based on assuming facts not in evidence, at least not in this episode. Don is still clearly not happy, nor comfortable, but where is he shown to be bitter and angry about dissolving his marriage? I missed it.

    We see the accountant has to prod him into forcing the issue of Betty staying in the house past October; Don really seems unconcerned initially. This is not an axe-grinding attitude of a bitter divorce. Additionally, it’s not unreasonable to interpret his behavior with the escort as a demonstration of his feelings of personal guilt and culpability for the wreck of his marriage. He feels the need to be punished; specifically punished during what had previously been a very pleasurable and self-focused activity, the activity that’s largely responsible for the break-up. Regardless of whether those interpretations are accurate, Don showed by not fighting Betty on the divorce that he was accepting his share of the blame for their problems. He’s not bitter; he’s disillusioned. He’s not angry; he’s numb. And therefore I feel not “vindictive”.

    Sorry for the rambling dissertation. It was a long off-season, as you know. I’m not in pithy and concise Comment Posting form yet. I’m typing my way into playing shape. Plus, I had a big chunk of time to kill at the bus stop. Carry on MM.

  27. @Less of me #27 – good stuff, nothing rambling about it.

    In order for the expression to convey vindictiveness, Don has to consciously be aware the housewife represents Betty and has to think that her portayal in the ad is negative.

    I'd be happy to replace "vindictive" with "cynical" IF that makes it work for some. Even by Don's 60's standards the housewife is, as I said, a caricature (thus, a lie). Betty certainly played that "role" and maybe Don believed it. He doesn't now. That smile is certainly echoed later at the end when he presents another "lie" to the WSJ reporter. It may be partly out of professional pride. But, IMHO, I think it's just as valid to say that he's reacting to a joke that perhaps only he is in on.

    I don’t think Don is feeling either of those emotions very strongly, yet if he is, not for that specific reason. I feel that type of emotional assessment is based on assuming facts not in evidence, at least not in this episode.

    Don may be hiding it well, but he's filled with bitterness and rage about his failed marriage. And it's not ALL directed at himself. Don's angry reaction to the Jantzens who keep reminding him that they're a "family" company (and, thus, a proxy for what he's lost). When he kicks the pair them out of his office (his "house") he is acting out for real what he'd been trying to do with Betty and Henry (who also live in DON's house).

  28. @28 MM – Thanks Matt, I'm chuckling because here I thought *vindictive* wasn't used right, but then I realized my own use of *rambling* wasn't precise either; *long-winded* I feel is perhaps more fitting.

    There you go, we have some meeting ground at *cynical*. I only watched it thoroughly once, it's possible my *self-satisfied* could be your *cynical*. The true tell in this case would probably be in his eyes. I'll scrutinize next time.

    (how 'bout *sardonic*? that word doesn't get enough play anymore IMO)

    I'll still choose to disagree about the bitterness and rage re the divorce, though. I think maybe you're projecting ahead a bit, (do you know something about the future that we mere cable-connected couch potatoes aren't privy to yet?)

    You know, not all failed marriages default to bitterness and rage, and in just this one episode, I'm really not feeling it. Hamm will have to emote big time for me to be convinced; the writers will have to slap me in the face with it. . . in order to get my acknowledgement there. I'm still convinced he's showing guilt and shame about his personal failure in the whole mess.

    To your other point, I feel the Jantzen jag was mostly professional frustration. Don wants to start moving forward again, and he now realizes he has the power and the obligation to make the decision to quit wasting his (and thus SCDP's) time and energy on maintaining the 25% hold of the market for *traditional* and *conventional* clients.

    I'll grant that if you're right about the bitterness of Don's emotional state, you are absolutely correct about the Jantzen subtext. However, again, I'll have to witness it myself first before I buy into it. Thanks for pitching it to me though.

  29. @28 Less of Me… more good stuff 🙂

    (do you know something about the future that we mere cable-connected couch potatoes aren’t privy to yet?)

    In light of the recent flap over AMC no longer sending out episode screeners, I feel compelled to strongly point out that I'm also a mere "cable-connected" couch potato. Also, I am NOT now nor have I ever been a recipient of advance information in ANY format. Furthermore, I am privy to NOTHING 😉

    how ’bout *sardonic*? that word doesn’t get enough play anymore IMO

    Heh, heh…that word did cross my mind too.

    To your other point, I feel the Jantzen jag was mostly professional frustration.

    I stated this in a different thread, but it applies here as well…

    In an NPR interview on “Public Relations,” Matthew Weiner is asked about the wooden leg on the Ad Age reporter from the first scene. Weiner saw it as a subconscious reminder to the audience that Don’s life has become a sort of “phantom limb.” He’s lost his wife, family and home, but can still “feel” them.

    So, I think "family man" Janzten’s act of putting his foot up on the table echoes back to the wooden leg bit and symbolically reminds Don about what he's lost and partly motivates Don’s explosive reaction to the pair.

  30. @#30 Matt Maul– IF that's even your real name,

    Considering the advance screening crack-down, you should probably append an authentic signature to your emphasized disavowal above, (I don't think emoticons are not legally binding in this regard), and have it properly notarized by the InterNet Governing Council. This will go a long way toward defending yourself against the charges when eventually the WeinerMacht puts its jackboot down on any and all InterNet entities which have their own URL address and dare to type, *mad*, *men*, and *this I know* in relative proximity to each other. I enjoy reading your posts, it would be sad to see you "disappeared".

    Speaking of posts, I see you have another up top, so I'll soon abandon this old thread. But I wanted to amend my comment about Jantzen.

    I was fortunate to catch the AMC re-run this morn while shining my shoes, getting ready for work; I can attest I smiled a self-satisfied smile.

    I was struck by a distinction that maybe wasn't clear in what you and I were discussing. I noticed most definitively that the writers' intention in that conference room scene was for us, the coach potato audience, to see the subtext regarding the Jantzens representing a traditional family dynamic evocative of Don's most recent encounter with Betty and Henry. It's explicitly highlighted by the coffee table and Roger's comment that they, the Jantzens, should feel like it's their living room.

    But I don't think Don is necessarily aware of that subtext, or it doesn't seem to bother him much; he is very focused on the edgy pitch he's making. He likes this sly ad of his, "it's a wink, not a leer", it's a crafty, modern piece of advertising (with an inside no less) that should satisfy all reasonably honest parties and make mo' money for every one concerned.

    And the hypocritical two-piece dinosaurs don't bite.

    His "hope you liked window-shopping" and walk-out was a variation on the Belle Jolie "come to Jesus" moment. It's mostly a ploy that has worked well before and I think Don believes Pete will get the Jantzens to eventually rise up and come to the Draper Savior.

    And to paraphrase the Pegster, it was all going well, until it wasn't.

    Don only really shows real anger when Roger unhinges him by telling him the plan is to smooth their ruffled feathers and sell the off-the-rack, traditional ad campaign the client really wants. This "we will make the compromise for their dollars" sell-out by Roger is what ignites Don's fuse and leads to the dramatic toss-out and then the WSJ interview.

    I don't deny the Draper family subtext, it's certainly there, but I think that it was more evident to just us than to Don. I will concede it probably had some type of influence on his attitude, even if just mainly subconsciously.

    After all, he is Don Draper, Complicated Mad Man. We wouldn't care as much if he just shrugged all this stuff off. And we wouldn't be as eager to discover what lies ahead each week; this I know. (oops.)

    Let me repeat definitively for all the web to read — Matt and I are privy to absolutely nothing.

  31. Blondes photographed poorly in black and white advertisements. Also, since most women were brunettes, the model for the Glo-Coat ad needed to be someone the bulk of the audience could identify with and pretend that they were her for a brief minute while the ad ran.

    Betty didn't wax the floor–hell, she made a major production out of lining the shelves. Betty's best talent is dirtying wine glasses.

    CARLA does all the heavy lifting in the "Francis" house.

    "Creepy Glen" is Matthew Weiner's real-life kid. He's going to be written into these episodes whenever possible. Pity Sal Romano wasn't related to Weiner–he really needs to be brought back. If they can resurrect Freddie Rumson, they can find a way to rehabilitate Sal, after Lee Garner Jr. gets hit by a bus and the Lucky Strike Account gets taken over by his WIDOW….

  32. […] had previously posted that the Glo-Coat television ad shown in “Public Relations,” Mad Men’s season […]

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