08/26/2010 06:52 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Digital: Mad Men Google Bombing for Fun -- and Profit?

On last Sunday's episode of AMC's period ad drama Mad Men, John Slattery's World War II vet Roger Sterling exploded in rage at the prospect of pitching to a Japanese client: "Why don't we just bring Dr. Lyle Evans in here?"

The other characters draw a blank on who exactly Dr. Lyle Evans is.

As Vanity Fair and others pointed out within minutes the Internet surged with the same question -- who is Dr. Lyle Evans? Google searches on the name skyrocketed.

Initial speculation was that Mad Men creator Matt Weiner and the show's writers had created the name as a so-called "Google bomb", a prank intended to drive a made-up name into trending search charts. So far that still seems to be the case, though some have pointed (check the comments in the Vanity Fair link) to the character of Evan Llewellyn Evans played by Sydney Greenstreet in the classic ad movie The Hucksters as the source of the reference.

If it was planted on purpose though, could it also have been for another reason beyond the fun of influencing the behavior of a large group of strangers online?

This is entirely speculative, but consider the value of product placement within television shows, a practice that has been on the upswing of late. Typically though the results of such placements can be hard to measure, especially when the product is woven organically into the show's storyline (as it should be.) How do you prove effectiveness?

Search engine queries are a great start. The immediate online response of a big swath of viewers to a show that already offers a dense tapestry of historical references and Easter eggs is hard to beat. What better way to show this influence over fans?

This got me to thinking on a broader level about how my fellow modern day ad colleagues look at data to guide strategy and measure results. Sometimes it can be helpful to go off the beaten path and look at non-traditional sources of measurement for inspiration.

Take a blog post I read recently about a press release from GM's OnStar division, which offers drivers turn-by-turn navigation to destinations. The press release listed the Top 10 destinations drivers had used OnStar to search for by brand:

1. Wal-Mart
2. Holiday Inn
3. Home Depot
4. Walgreens
5. Marriott
6. McDonald's
7. Bank of America
8. Starbucks
9. Target
10. Hampton Inn

My first thought was that people may need gas but they don't seem to care what brand they get it from. The second was that every single one of the brands in the Top 10 ought to be thinking about the power of locally-targeted mobile search ads. Plenty of people use their smart phones to find local destinations while driving (hopefully with the help of a non-driving passenger). What a great additional proof point to bring this home.

This is not to mention the obvious implications for local SEO and individual store listings on platforms like Google Places, Yelp, and increasingly Foursquare. With Facebook rolling out location-based check-ins, some brands might even consider local Facebook profiles for individual stores. Many already have.

The fact that an in-car navigation system can tell us about the potential of advertising on mobile devices, and search volume on Google can give insight into the behavior of television viewers brings home the fact that we tend to be doing many things at once these days. We search (and make phone calls) while driving and watching TV, we watch TV and buy things online simultaneously, we work and chat with pals on Facebook at the same time. As our activities multiply, the need to vary the data sources that help us understand this is vital.