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Why Ad Agency McCann Can't Stop AMC's Mad Men From Bashing Its Good Name

Last Updated Aug 18, 2010 5:38 PM EDT

Last year, AMC's Mad Men included a storyline about McCann Erickson taking over Don Draper's fictional ad agency, Sterling Cooper, which so charmed the real-life agency that for a brief period it replaced its homepage with a video montage of all the times McCann was mentioned in the show. McCann also bought some ads in the trade mags welcoming their non-existent new employees from Sterling Cooper.

Last night, however, Mad Men's fictional McCann account director Ken Cosgrove went into an extended riff about how much he hated his agency. He compared McCann to a hospital his mom worked at:
I never thought I'd see as many retards in one building.
Ouch! You can bet that won't make it onto McCann's web site any time soon. One obvious lesson here is, don't hook your brand to an independent creative force if you don't have a contract with them.

But why does McCann allow Mad Men to trash its good name? Even during the takeover storyline, McCann was cast as a giant corporate villain. Shouldn't the agency sue AMC for trading on its brand?

The answer is that McCann may have no choice. Copyright law gives fiction writers a free "fair use" right to mention brand names in their stories. So McCann may not be able to stop Mad Men using its brand even if it wanted to.

McCann probably doesn't want to -- this is one of those cases where there's no such thing as bad publicity. The show makes McCann look relevant, even though it's set about 40 years in the past.


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