Opinion

Hershey gets well-deserved star treatment on Mad Men

Scene in the finale tells the masses about Milton Hershey’s work

Mad Men Hershey Don Draper
Don Draper (Jon Hamm) selling a ptich about Hershey's on the 1960s period drama, Mad Men.

It’s 1968 and Hershey’s Chocolate is looking for an advertising agency  — at least in the world of the Emmy-winning drama Mad Men.

Ken CosGrove, a sales guy, walks into one of the partner’s offices with the news. 

Crystal Lindell
Crystal Lindell

“Name a Chocolate,” he demands.

Don Draper, one of the partners, immediately names his favorite, “What, like Hershey’s?”

Ken goes on to explain, “Hershey’s Chocolate sent an RFP out to the top 30 agencies and all anyone seems to care about is that we’re in the top 30.”

Don, who loves Hershey’s purity, thinks he knows why. “Because Hershey’s isn’t serious. They don’t advertise. They never have.”

Things might be about to change for the iconic candy company though, as one of the other partners, Jim Cutler, points out, “Mars bills at $10 million.”

Ken explains, “We think Hershey’s is asking for someone to talk them into that.”

A few sentences later, Don is ready to plan a campaign. “I love Hershey’s. Get me in a room,” he demands.

Mad Men is a show known for its historical accuracy and insane level of detail. And on its season finale Sunday night, it incorporated a storyline about Hershey’s chocolate that eventually led to a powerful scene where the main character, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) lost it in front of a room full of Hershey’s executives.

Hershey’s says the scene was completely organic, and Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator, told the LA Times, that he “chose to build the scene around the product because Don is from Pennsylvania, where the chocolate empire is based.”

Milton Hershey isn’t the first business titan to get a call out on the show. Weiner’s also featured storylines about Conrad Hilton, and H.J. Heinz.

As Weiner explains his fascination with such strong men to the LA Times, “There are certain American businessmen that are completely eccentric, but have this kind of strange moral quality. As moral as you can be and be a ruthless business person.”

I admit that I’m a huge fan of the period drama and as soon as I realized a story about Hershey’s was on the way, I perked up. As the season finale worked its way through a variety of storylines Sunday night for the huge ensemble cast, I almost forgot about the whole thing though, until suddenly Don Draper was in a 1960s board room, turning around a poster board with the huge Hershey’s Chocolate bar on it.

Aside from the fact that I have invested six full seasons into this man and he was about to completely lose it; I was also excited to see how the show would handle 1960s Hershey’s.

At first, Don tries to give the Hershey’s executives the pitch you’d expect to hear in 1968.

“Every agency you’re going to meet with feels qualified to advertise the Hershey bar because the product itself is one of the most successful billboards of all time and its relationship with America is so overwhelmingly positive.

Everyone in this room has their own story to tell. It could be rations in the heat of battle or in the movie theater on a first date. Most of them are from childhood.

Mine was from my father, taking me to the drugstore after I mowed the lawn and telling me I could have anything I wanted, anything at all — and there was a lot — but I picked a Hershey bar. The wrapper looked like what was inside, and as I ripped it open, my father tousled my hair, and forever, his love and the chocolate were tied together.

That’s the story we’re going to tell. Hershey’s is the currency of affection. It’s the childhood symbol of love.”

The language is so intriguing not only for the viewers who know it’s a bunch of lies because Don was an orphan, but also because it acts as a time machine for a product that’s still so vibrant today. War rations, first dates and drug stores — it’s all language that tries to take you back to simpler times.

But then, because this is a TV show about Don Draper, he completely goes off the cliff — probably because one of the Hershey’s executives turns to him and says, “Well, weren’t you a lucky little boy?” He wasn’t.

Don’s hand starts to shake, and it’s almost as if he turns into a child again, and he just doesn’t want to lie anymore.

“I’m sorry. I have to say this, because I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again,” he starts off. It’s almost like he’s confessing a passionate love to someone and he just has to say it because he might never get another chance.

“I was an orphan,” Don continues. “I grew up in Pennsylvania in a whore house. I read about Milton Hershey and his school in Coronet magazine or some other crap the girls left by the toilet, and I read that some orphans had a different life there. I could picture it, I dreamt of it. Of being wanted.” 

That right there is enough to scare his partners at the advertising agency. But Don’s started his speech and he’s not going back now.

“Because the woman who was forced to raise me would look at me everyday like she hoped I would disappear. The closest I got to feeling wanted was from a girl who made me go through her john’s pockets while they screwed. If I collected more than a dollar, she’d buy me a Hershey bar and I would eat it alone in my room with great ceremony feeling like a normal kid. And it said sweet on the package.

It was the only sweet thing in my life.”

The Hershey’s executive’s look at him, stunned and say, “Do you want to advertise that?”

And Don replies, “If I had my way, you would never advertise. You shouldn’t have someone like me telling that boy what a Hershey bar is. He already knows.”

And the executive says, “That’s quite a story.”

Since that was the season finale of Mad Men, we don’t know if Hershey decided to advertise with Don’s agency or not, but most of the TV reviewers out there are guessing that his little break down in front of the executives pretty much guarantees they didn’t.

They’re probably right, but I’d like to think for a second that maybe the critics are wrong. That maybe the Hershey executives could see the child in Don Draper; that they could see the orphan in the man, and that they knew where he was coming from.

I’d like to think that Milton Hershey’s school was such an amazing idea when it was first created, that orphans all over the country read about it during that time and Hershey’s executives were used to hearing strange but real stories like this from orphans every time they met one who wasn’t able to go to the school.

And I’d like to think they saw the connection Don Draper had to the chocolate, and how much it meant to him, and they knew that a man like that could sell their candy better than a kid with a dad any day.

So much of Hershey’s history and the story of its loving founder aren’t known by the current generation. But the man didn’t just make candy, he made homes for kids who didn’t have them, and he gave hope to kids who didn’t even have that. And he was still able to run a wildly successful company that manages to make huge profits to this day.

One scene on one show about that story is surely more powerful than a thousand advertisements about the chocolate in a Hershey’s bar. 

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