The Mysterious History Of Mad Men Promos

mm1Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
The end has begun. This Sunday, approximately everyone will tune into AMC for the first episode of Mad Men's new season, excited to see who knows what, exactly. Thanks to Matthew Weiner's draconian confidentiality policies, we're going in blind. The story could pick up right where we left it, or Mad Men season 7 may take place on the International Space Station in the year 2072. It's a complete mystery, and that's kind of what we love about it.
But, it's also what drives us berserk, and Weiner knows it. Every year, the publicity team releases key art, teaser trailers, and the occasional screenshot a couple months in advance of the premiere. And, every year, Weiner makes casual claims that they're just simple promotion. We know better, Matt. A rose ain't just a rose in the world of Mad Men, and internet dramaturges have long studied these objects for cryptic clues. Some lead nowhere, some point to red herrings, and a select few can actually be connected to plot points and seasonal themes. But, they all mean something. Or nothing. Or everything.
In frustration anticipation of the upcoming premiere, we've rounded up promotional materials from every season of Mad Men. Have a quick nostalgia binge starting with the simple, lighthearted season 1 TV spots to this week's confounding new teaser. You may actually find a few hints for the finale along the way — after all, we know that you know that Weiner already knows the fate of Don Draper and his crew.
If not, we'll see you on the space station.
season-1-posterPhoto: Courtesy of AMC.
Season 1:
The first season poster consisted of perfect, slightly confusing simplicity. Mad men? Are they mad at us? Are they Mad Hatter mad? Who smokes anymore these days? What is this mad man doing on the side of a bus and when will I get to work so I can Google the crap out of it?
season1-picPhoto: Courtesy of AMC.
Ohhhh, it's a show about men who work on MADison Avenue! And do ADvertising! I get it. Well, if it's anything like this cheery, funny, not remotely dark trailer, I'll be tuning in on Sunday, for sure. (Spoiler alert: it's not!)
(Ed. Note: You must watch this trailer if only to hear the cast's bizarre first-season baby voices. Elisabeth Moss sounds like an 8 year old, and Jon Hamm comes off like a vague, mysterious college sophomore.)
season-2-posterPhoto: Courtesy of AMC.
Season 2:
The plot thickens. Here, we find Don, as ever, the standout in the maddening crowd. Conspiracy theorists began to sit up and take notice with this poster, placing Illuminati overlays across Jon Hamm's head, screaming "Look, the Eye of Horace!"
We think this poster might be more about "Look, Jon Hamm is very handsome!" (Also: "We won some Golden Globes, remember?!"
season-2-photoPhoto: Courtesy of AMC.
Yep, definitely still handsome. The second season's promo shot shifts ever so slightly away from that first classic portrait. Alliances are drifting together, and outsiders hang on to the edges. Cooper's got his shoes off. Pete still has hair. And, Sal! Who's up for starting a #Sal4Season7 hashtag?
The teaser takes a bigger leap from the first season's fun, drunk, and naked times. For a speechless 30 seconds, we're reminded of our lead characters as they sit in shadowed tableaus pondering all the trouble they got into — and what trouble is yet to come.
Try not to rewind and watch Jon Hamm make vicious eye contact with you while lighting a cigarette at the end. I'm probably the first person to say this, but Jon Hamm is very handsome.
season3posterPhoto: Courtesy of AMC.
Season 3:
Okay, here we go. The first poster that got tongues wagging was this (not photoshopped!) shot of Don sitting in his sinking (flooding?) office. Is he drowning, or is his company going under? Where's his cocktail? (Is he inside the cocktail?) Why are the Lucky Strikes floating away? Is that an ashtray on his right or an umbrella holder? WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN WITH UMBRELLAS?
season3-januaryPhoto: Courtesy of AMC.
This season, AMC also released environmental portraits. In these, we saw some interesting if not terribly surprising scenarios: Peggy gets off the subway looking ambitious, Roger gets his shoes shined, Betty wants a big-ass necklace, quelle surprise.
The teaser employs the maddening editing we're used to seeing on scenes-from-next-week clips. It's 30 seconds of shots without context, and people saying things like "Close the door," "What do you mean?" and "You shouldn't have done that." The only finished thought we get is: "Don is important." Great. Thanks for that.
season-4Photo: Courtesy of AMC. Season 4: Bo-ring. Don in an empty room makes complete sense for this season. New company, new office, same old pretty boy staring out the window wondering whose wife he's going to screw this afternoon.
season-4-barPhoto: Courtesy of AMC.
At least the cast is at a bar where they belong. Peggy continues to shadow at Don's shoulder, Pete looks extra jack-assy with an extreme eyebrow arch, and Betty is far, far away, thank goodness. Welp, looks like another snoozefest — but WAIT! Who is this faceless mystery man in the background? Could it be Don's double? His former self here to haunt him? Is Dick Whitman sneaking back into the picture?
In exchange for this completely unhelpful clue, AMC and Weiner docked us a teaser.
season-5Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
Season 5:
Another poster that led to weeks of theorizing. Seems simple enough: Don's looking at his own life, or the life he'd like to have, or the life everyone thinks he has? He is faceless, without identity, as is his lady friend. Perhaps he's only playing house? Again, his double makes an appearance. But, this year, instead of in the background looking away, the doppelgänger is up close and personal. Which one is the real Don?
Of this poster, Matt Weiner said, “By the end of the season, I guarantee you’ll know what it is about.”
(Or not.)
season-5picPhoto: Courtesy of AMC.
This curious promotional shot seemed to mirror the poster (but, y'know, with clothes on). The trailer, cut together with snippets of season 4, hit the nail just a little hard on the head, asking "Who is Don Draper?" And, immediately answering with "You're not a good person!" by way of his secretary's sobs. "You never say thank you!" scolds Peggy. And then, Don pours three hundred or so drinks. Problem solved!
season-6Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
Season 6:
There he is again! A veritable Where's Waldo of questionable clues, looking back a year later, the season 6 poster is definitely telling us something. You've got riot cops in the background, reflecting the violence that runs through every episode; A dark-haired woman over Don's shoulder is most certainly his downstairs neighbor-lover, Sylvia; A plane ascends into the sky; Street signs point in various directions; And, in the middle of it all, Don holds hands with a mystery woman, glancing over his shoulder at his other self.
At which man is the one-way sign pointing? Either way, it seems Don's days of double-living are over. There can only be one.
season-6-key-artPhoto: Courtesy of AMC.
The season 6 key art included a lush series of black-and-white photos, shot in a party scene. It's a mysterious mix of attendees, none of whom appear to be having a very good time. The teaser, however, invites us to join in "the affair." So, apparently there's going to be an affair. Which, duh.
season-7Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
Season 7:
So far this year, we've been given two mysterious promos to chew on. The poster (and most recent teaser) reflect Don's trippy walk into the '70s. It also takes us back to the season 1 poster, featuring our faceless, smoking mad man staring off into oblivion.
season-7-don-airplanePhoto: Courtesy of AMC.
But, it's this airport scenario we're most intrigued by. Interesting to note: In the season 6 poster, it's the doppelgänger walking toward a plane. Is he or Don stepping off of one here?
"It's all up in the air."

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