If you were watching the popular AMC television show Mad Men one Sunday in April, you may have been caught off-guard when Beloit College was mentioned in the episode that opened the show’s sixth season. The brief scene went something like this: previously unknown character Bob Benson meets star of the show Don Draper in an elevator and works his academic credentials into a brief, awkward conversation. Looking like a sycophant with two coffees—one that he offers to Draper to try to ingratiate himself—Benson says he graduated from Beloit College and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
By the end of the season, Benson is entwined in some of the show’s major plot lines. His Beloit and UPenn degrees come into question when it appears that he’s fabricated his résumé.
Rolling Stone has speculated about Bob Benson’s purpose, calling the character an “enigma” and suggesting he could be a plant from another ad agency, a government agent investigating Don Draper, or an investigative journalist—that is, if he’s not just a red herring (for which writer Matthew Weiner is notorious).
Other Beloit connections to the show were mounting even before a possibly phony fictional alumnus appeared. Koss Headphones was a fictional client of the fictional ad agency that is based on the actual Milwaukee, Wis.-based pioneers of audio headphones. Koss’s CEO and president is Michael Koss’76, an alumnus and former member of Beloit’s board of trustees.
In a recent issue of Advertising Age, Koss was interviewed about the opportunities and perils of having his company portrayed on Mad Men, which sometimes shows real companies, like Jaguar autos, in a bad light.
Observant members of Beloit’s alumni group on LinkedIn have also pointed out that Leinenkugel beer, based in Chippewa Falls, Wis., and long associated with Beloit memories, is one of the show’s real advertisers. On an earlier Mad Men episode, LinkedIn alumni even detected a Beloit College diploma on a doctor’s office wall, although the lettering could not be seen without scrutiny on a DVR.
Will Beloit references continue to work their way onto the show during the final season, and will we be glad Bob Benson didn’t actually (fictionally) graduate from Beloit? The only way to find out is to stay tuned.