Modern Heroes

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It’s Mad Men season. In the weeks leading up to the series’ return to television last month, everybody was talking about what the show means to culture, advertising, and fashion. Fascination with this cultural phenomenon is often attributed to a perfect confluence of the design world’s obsession with mid-century modern style and what show creator Matthew Weiner indicates is a perfect synchronicity between the sweeping period of change represented by the 1960s and in our current decade.

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There are a number of other theories about what produces the show’s broad appeal, but a strong case could be made for the fact that nostalgia is a favorite pastime across demographics. Everyone likes to think that things used to be much better, even as we are simultaneously dazzled by how great things are today. We exist in a paradox of longing for the simplicity of the past and hoping for a more streamlined future.

The intersection of old and new is where most AV sales are made. Customers seek the comfort they once had in simpler times, and yet they want the latest gadget to solve all their problems. Harking back to a time when slide projectors were the new gadget, Mad Men advertising sales hero Don Draper once expressed a theory about nostalgia. He was demonstrating a slide projector during a sales pitch to Kodak, and he said that nostalgia has as much pull as the word “new” in provoking a customer’s interest. He explained, “In Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.”

Whether or not any sales person in the AV industry would care to be compared with the somewhat abrasive and flawed Don Draper, there are similarities worth mentioning purely from a business tactics standpoint. This was evident at the NS CA Business and Leadership Conference in Dallas February 1-3. For the 14th year in a row, I was there among the best and brightest in our industry, and the topics of conversation once again impressed me with how sophisticated the AV sales process has become. It’s no longer about hawking a black box. Now it’s all about addressing a customer’s “pain point” with a “solution.”

As the BLC event grows, and breaks attendance records as it did this year, it’s hard not to be nostalgic with those who have been at the event from day one. But as we look back fondly on how much we’ve all learned over the years, a much more powerful feeling is the drive toward what’s new. Ultimately, the past is what reminds us to move forward.

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