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.