Jaguar’s “Mad Men” role provokes surprise, reluctant applause from company

A key player in this season of "Mad Men," the AMC show about the travails of a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the 1960s, had no idea of its starring role until the characters first mentioned the word "Jaguar." Now the British automaker has turned into one of the show's most ardent watchers -- embracing the attention while trying to stay above the crimes committed in its name and historical commentary on its quality.

(SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen these episodes of "Mad Men," and prefer to be surprised when you watch the show, you should stop reading now.)

It's impossible to write a TV show about an advertising agency and not involve the big spenders in the auto industry somehow. Before its fifth season, only real brush "Mad Men" had with an automaker came in one episode dealing with a pitch for Honda scooters. The writing staff did ask Jaguar for advice about how a mid-'60s dealership might look, and did enough research to put the Jaguar E-Type in its correct context as "the most beautiful car in the world" -- but Jaguar did not pay for any placement, nor did it have any idea about how series creator Matthew Weiner would use its vehicles.

David Pryor, marketing vice president for Jaguar North America, and Stuart Schorr, vice president of communications, wrote in Jalopnik that they were "thrilled" to discover midway through this season that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce would purse Jaguar's business. And what automaker wouldn't appreciate Joan Holloway striding toward their vehicle with the line, "Oh honey, what's that?"

As the show built toward the pitch, Jaguar's beauty became a metaphor, and the patented Don Draper pitch for the Jaguar business ranks among the best the show has ever created for the character -- and not far from Jaguar's own "Alive" ads for its modern models:

Oh, this car, this thing, gentlemen…what price would we pay? What behavior would we forgive? If they weren't pretty, if they weren't temperamental, if they weren't beyond our reach and a little out of our control, would we love them like we do? Jaguar…at last something beautiful you can truly own.

Yet by the time Draper delivered those words a week ago, the Jaguar execs felt less elated than queasy -- what with the running comments about '60s-era British vehicle quality, Draper driving drunk and of course a Jaguar dealer demanding Joan's services in bed in exchange for a favorable vote on the account. The Jaguar team's reaction, via Twitter, was brief: "Loved the pitch, didn't love the process."

Things only grew darker this week, when Lane Pryce -- the British ex-pat accountant who brought Jaguar to the firm in the first place -- attempted to kill himself in a British racing green E-Type his wife bought for him as a gift. That attempt fails when the Jaguar fails to start, spawning a thousand reminders of the quality behind Lucas electronics, also known as the "prince of darkness." (In one of those small notes the show is known for, Lane struggles for a sum just $1,000 more than what Don dashed off to drive a red E-Type with Joan out of the dealership.)

The reaction from Pryor and Schorr: "We have never been so happy to see our car not start."

Both vowed to watch this week's season finale, and they wouldn't be such professionals if they didn't worry about how the historical version of the company was portrayed in mass media. But they should relax. "Mad Men" is an exploration of desire, and there was no car that better embodied desire in 1966 than a Jaguar E-Type. Had "Mad Men" come to Jaguar with the story beforehand and asked for help, the company probably would have said no -- and missed having its cars heralded by a show known for its devotion to accurately recreating history. Part of the burden of being beautiful lies in learning how to take a compliment.