AMC is pushing the final episodes of its hit series “Mad Men”, which begin airing April 5, as #TheEndofanEra. For many viewers, particularly those in the advertising industry, it is. Even though “Mad Men” is in many respects a time capsule of a bygone era, which has certainly helped fuel its popularity on a broader level, there are still some principles that remain true in the ad industry today. The content and outlets may have changed, but the creative process has not. Client interaction is still vital. And it’s a show and an industry about human behavior.
As Momentology prepares for the final episodes of “Mad Men”, we talked to 19 advertising executives to get their take on what the television show has revealed about the advertising industry and what the show’s enduring legacy will be. Their comments follow.
Many laud the show’s attention to detail, pointing to identifiable situations they have experienced themselves. They also talk about the allure the show has created for the industry overall to those outside of it. And, they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Josh Weltman, “Mad Men” co-producer, former advertising industry creative director
I think that the show came along at a time when advertising was being upended by the digital revolution in media.
“Mad Men” did a lot to remind people working in the ad business that regardless of media, old, new, traditional and social, persuasion depends on someone one having an idea that speaks to the wants, hopes and expectations of another person.
I hope that idea lasts. I think it’s good to keep things between humans human.
Gerard Caputo, Executive Creative Director, BBH
For me, the fact that the show is in the advertising industry is more circumstantial, in a way. I do think the thing that they have in common is more about the people and the characters.
Ad agencies are really just about the people they have in them. The ad industry is about the individuals and those are the things that make it interesting or complicated or hard or fun. It’s about the mix of people. “Mad Men” is really about people — that’s the biggest connection.
The show makes some pretty astute observations about advertising, which I think it mostly centers around Peggy and what she’s gone through. She’s developed up through the ranks and has had a lot of challenges Don Draper hasn’t had. She’s gone through things, been a victim and had to change and adapt and take advantage of situations. Those things were more her story arc and it feels like…some things people actually go through.
[There are also] classic situations like I know that in the past I have heard of creative directors leaving boards in the car and some of those things that happen that are very bad – the creative director clichés – but it’s funny how they did focus on that at times. And then sometimes Don Draper feeling out of touch and getting back to the work again.
Creative directors may feel like they’re having to get closer to work and find their center of gravity, which is what he did in the last season. Those things are interesting and feel a bit more true.
I think it’s one of the first shows [to do a] good job of getting close to what we do, but it’s still a fantasy. I think it will be remembered for having great characters…not necessarily an ad thing. But it does make people interested in advertising that maybe wouldn’t be…or it sometimes feels the magic of what we do – like the curtain’s been lifted and everyone is creative and I think back then.
The show does a nice job of talking creative process, which is now lost in some ways. Now it’s more about tech, and I think maybe in some ways the legacy will be that it’s shown what people did was really cool and maybe make people interested and want to get into advertising.
Joe Grimaldi, Chairman, Mullen
I’m an avid “Mad Men” watcher. I actually prefer the binge watching. When it’s drawn out, it’s annoying. If I could, I would sit down and watch the entirety like a movie and then be done with it.
This is a show that actually penetrated society and culture and captured imagination. If you recall, in the second or third or fourth season, before it came back, people were having “Mad Men” parties and wearing the same kind of clothes or things that were sort of related to that era.
The advertising business has always been very public and I don’t know if glamorous is the right word, but it’s about putting ideas on film and shaping what people think about [them] and how they think about [them]…and there have been many, many shows and stories about it. What the show gets a lot of credit is for the attention to detail and excruciating research.
On the negative side, it’s like any movie or story – there’s the villain and antagonist that builds the drama and tension. Were there people drinking and womanizing? I think the answer is yes. Was everyone doing it? No…but they paint the entire industry [as if it was ] very much into that as way of life and I think that’s what makes the show interesting. If it was about a guy who went home every day you’d end up with Ward Cleaver, who was just a good father and he was in the ad business.
I think what I identify with in the show is that a lot of the situations that were portrayed – not necessarily how they were portrayed – but the reality is totally true. I’ve been in situations in which you’re working on a pitch and it comes down to the final day and the person you’re talking to gets fired and now you have a dead pitch before you make a pitch, yet you have invested all this time…I think that when you take out all the crazy drinking and crazy stuff and look at what’s going on, there’s a truth to that.
The new business pitches, the pressure on doing the work, the jockeying for position – those kinds of things really happen and happen on a regular basis. Someone who is brilliant implodes in front of you or is genius in certain ways, but loses reality in part and does something on their own and creates a major problem for the agency. All of that kind of stuff is true.
As people look back at “Mad Men”, what it will have done is set a tone for the flair and style that did exist in advertising and didn’t exist in other businesses like banking and real estate. And I think that it will also for a lot of people who aren’t deeply involved in the advertising industry, make them think there are a lot of hard-drinking, crazy ass lunatics in that business.
I think people will remember that this is a hard-driving business of crazy people who go all out and not necessarily in the best ways. But what I really think at the end of the day for people like myself inside is that we will reflect that it did capture the reality of the biz and things that happen in a very profoundly meaningful way.
Tom Eslinger, Worldwide Director of Digital and Social, Saatchi & Saatchi
I’ve always thought of “Mad Men” as “The Sopranos” minus the murder with square jobs. Gang mentality, betrayal, oddball affairs and this guy at the center with creative ideas to keep it all together, yet failing to do the same for himself.
“Mad Men” has a cadence that you always knew what was going to happen: assassinations, Manson murders, fashions, moon landing alongside the real “advertising” things happening like multi-national takeovers, the rise of media as a creative discipline, and uncomfortable mergers that end badly. That balance of knowing what’s going to happen and not having a clue where it’s going at the same time had me hooked every season.
I was really lucky to start my career while still in college and had professors and mentors that did their rounds on the 1960s agency circuit, like Hazel Gamec and others like P. Scott Makela and Charles Spencer Anderson that were taking advertising into cool new places in the 1990s. For me, every episode reminded me that this is the most interesting place to work ever. Still. And keep a sense of humor about the whole thing: AMC should option ‘The Awesome World of Advertising’ Tumblr blog and turn it into Mad Men 2015.
Is anything ad-related in the show still applicable today? Be absolutely brutal about getting the best, most amazing ideas in front of our clients and customers.
Susan Credle, Chief Creative Officer, Leo Burnett
The show unquestionably influenced pop culture, fashion and interior design. It would be naive to say it didn’t affect perceptions of the advertising industry.
Mahir Hossein, Senior Producer, R/GA It really “pulled back the curtain” and showed how agencies operate from the point of view of creatives, account people, and more. Of course things have changed, and the show was not always the most realistic, but a lot of what happened is applicable to our work today.
We get an RFP, we pitch, we present work to clients. Sometimes work is well received and sometimes it isn’t. The show captured the frustrations and the celebrations in a pretty real way.
Personally, it made me realize that some things never change – they just progress. For example, they worked with print-out boards for their presentations, we work with decks.
One of the real differences is technology. Can you image what Don Draper would have done if he had had the Internet? Social media? I wonder what Don Draper’s Instagram would look like.
We live in fascinating times – it’s fast paced compared to what it used to be, largely because of technology, Internet, social media, which makes information sharing real time, you get information in seconds now.
Targeting is also completely different, it used to be that they had two to three channels (print, TV, radio) and that was it. You created a print ad and a TV commercial and put it out there hoping for the best. Today you can target whoever you want with by all the information that is available online on the different platforms. You can create content that is specifically for that individual, something personal, with the higher likelihood for ROI on that than a print ad or TV commercial that reaches the masses rather than the specific audience you want.
The agency world is definitely not as sexist as it was back then, and on the show, but I do feel women still have a harder time landing top positions. The industry has definitely worked hard to change that, but there is definitely still work to be done. I think that’s true for all professions and not just advertising. I would like to have worked with Peggy, she should have been the lead creative at the agency and Joan was clearly more responsible than the executives on the show.
“Mad Men” is all about human behavior. The show was great at getting deep into these characters’ personal lives and showing why they do what they do. I can definitely see how their experiences are relevant to what goes on today, even though it’s been so long.
I’ll miss watching Don Draper and Roger Sterling drink and smoke in the office. It set a really cool scene and always left me wishing that we did that today.
Pierre Lipton, Chief Creative Officer, 360i
“Mad Men” is singularly responsible for making advertising people interesting again at non-industry cocktail parties. How? By telling stories that some old-timers might actually call tame versions of the truth.
“Mad Men” did it all with beautiful writing, style and performances. Or, as they would have put it back in the day, Copy, Art and Production.
We will miss it every Sunday, ad infinitum (imprudentia pun).
Jason De Turris, Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, CP+B
Ad people have been a one-dimensional stereotype since their earliest portrayals in the media. From the original “12 Angry Men” with a juror who speaks in shallow yet catchy platitudes like, “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes,” to the all-consuming and conniving portrayal of an agency leader in “What Women Want.” They position us as sneaky opportunists and slick salesmen.
I hope “Mad Men” would somehow recast us as the ultimate competitive advantage. The unsung and unconventional heroes who solve problems. But it all depends on how Don goes out.
Overall, I’ll miss Draper’s brilliance in the midst of madness. The character vacillates between flawed and flawless. I’ll miss the internal debate that occurs when rooting for someone you admire and despise in the same suit. If you hate him, you’re not honest with yourself, and if you love him, you have to question why. It’s not an advertising battle, it’s a human battle.
The show has taught us that everything new is old. We are an industry obsessed with looking forward. Every six months, there is a new media verb, platform or campaign that we “salute.” While technology has changed our industry immensely, the human factor and interplay with clients are pretty constant. It teaches the timeless lesson that people who “get” people will get the best ideas from a tissue session to Times Square.
In grad school I was fortunate enough to work on a documentary with some former 1960s DDB icons. It was focused on the personalities behind the original Volkswagen campaign. I got to visit and interview Hall of Famers like Julian Koenig, Bob Levinson and Roy Grace, to name a few.
Koenig, who passed away last year, was a direct link for me to the Mad Men era. Koenig has “Lemon,” “Think Small” and “Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking,” in his credits. When reflecting on “Lemon,” he explained to me: “If you listen to clients, you can hear them speak ads to you.”
Koenig called places like The Palm and Four Seasons the cafeteria (meaning he ate there for lunch all the time). He didn’t labor in the office if ideas weren’t flowing. He defeated writer’s block by heading to the horse track. He was a free spirit and didn’t need to make apologies because he was a master in his craft. He embodied both the flaws and flawlessness that created tension in his work.
Like many in the Mad Men era, the collision of tension and truth led to work that will live forever. Thank you to them and thank you “Mad Men”.
Scott Montgomery, Principal, Bradley and Montgomery
To the degree that the story showed Peggy move from withering functionary to tough-minded creative lead, and how the context of the social changes of ‘60s helped embolden her, it was an interesting meditation on the rise of women in business – only to be confronted with a whole new, perhaps more nefarious, layer of glass ceilings.
There are still laughably few women in creative departments in the American ad business, and “Mad Men” served to point up, as it did on so many issues, that while it seems different today, in important ways, we’re just as backward as ever.
Craig Moore, Creative Director, Bradley and Montgomery
The era of the Mad Men is over. The rampant sexism, and outrageous claims about a product’s benefits are not, and shouldn’t be, practices that are tolerated by the industry.
However, at its core there are some ideas that remain solid to this day. Ideas like boiling a brand down to its absolute simplest essence, finding what is unique about it and using that to market a product to its appropriate audience are still key to successful advertising communication.
The tools for identifying, and learning about the audience are far more advanced, and the tools for creating the work are far more democratized. The tools of the trade are now easily available and accessible by nearly everyone on the planet.
We all carry amazing cameras in our pockets, and we all control our own media networks where we broadcast our thoughts, and hopes and dreams. On top of all of this, the technology platforms are constantly evolving and improving so that you can reach your audience in a more meaningful and efficient ways.
While the media technology is vastly different, the way good ideas are created are very much the same. My favorite Don Draper quote to this day, which feel still holds true is, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”
Jean Morrow, Copywriter at BBH
I think one of the things that “Mad Men” did was it definitely made working in advertising seem sexy and it made more people want to do it. I know I’ve spoken to at least one person who was young enough that watching “Mad Men” affected his desire to want to be in advertising at all. It was powerful enough of a show that it affected his career path and has the ability to do that for people who might feel creative and not be sure how they want to pay their rent.
When people ask me about the show, if the show comes up, they ask me something like, “Is it really like that?” and I always say, “Yeah, it’s pretty accurate.”
One of the big things in the show is good ideas save people in the show. It’s how Peggy got her first promotion – she had the best idea for the lipstick way back in the beginning of the show.
There’s a lot of political stuff and nefarious activities and there’s some truth to that, but if you have a good idea that is better than the others and the client likes it…there’s something merit-based about how it all works. Great creative ideas do kind of win and that’s enjoyable to watch in the show.
It’s really dark a lot of times and they’re doing terrible things to each other and that’s upheld a certain truth to that in agency experience as well, but good ideas are still kind of the most important thing.
Natalie Lam, Executive Creative Director, Razorfish New York The “Mad Men” series has reintroduced the stereotypical and superficial Madison Avenue of old. While creative people still have a flare for the glamorous life made so appealing in the show, there has been a fundamental shift in the culture of today’s advertising world.
There was once a distinct hierarchy in agency life, but the rise of millennial talent has created an open, collaborative environment – often made visible through social media. The rise of gender equality became a key theme throughout the show and has been heightened in today’s society.
We have several clients who proactively request that we be more diverse. The industry is not completely there yet, but we’ve made significant progress.
Ari Halper, Executive Creative Director, GREY NY
Most people now think that every creative director is like Don Draper. Brilliant, egomaniacal, misogynistic, Machiavellian, alcoholic, narcissistic workaholics. To which I personally take great offense. I am definitely not Machiavellian!
I’ve learned that back then the hardest part of being in the business was staying married and avoiding cirrhosis of the liver. Today, not much has improved on the marriage front, between all of the late nights and weekend work, but at least the drinking is down significantly, unless you count the week in Cannes where everyone pounds so much hooch it seems like they’re trying to make up for this.
Dan Connolly, CEO, LEVEL Studios
“Mad Men” has made the creative process of advertising more relatable and personalized, not through the individual “creative genius” profiles like Don Draper, but in the way art and copy is brought together to ideate around product and marketing experiences.
While the output of advertising has evolved, the process of inspiration and ideation still remains relevant. Today, the room has expanded past the Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons, and includes mobile designers, creative technologist and engineers – all coming together to build compelling stories and meaningful products with the user at the center.
“Mad Men” depicts a darker side of the advertising industry, corrupt and with gender and racial inequality. While we’ve made progress since the period of “Mad Men”, there is still a wide gap in the diversification of industry leaders.
As “Mad Men” comes to a close, I hope that its legacy will be to mark the end of an era and kickstart a new chapter in our industry, one that inspires a generation of openness and inclusion at all levels.
John Gross, Director of Marketing/Client Development, Struck
I started my career in the business before digital, when there were just four media possibilities (print, radio, TV and outdoor). And while I’ve never worked in a big Madison Avenue agency, I do remember those days as being remarkably simpler, when it came to effective messaging and advertising.
There seemed to be an even stronger emphasis on the client-side for that “big idea” that would break-through. Now it seems many clients are counting on technology to help them break through, even though that big idea still needs to be there.
For me, one of the enduring legacies of the show will be the context it provides to people who aren’t in the business. Since the show began, as soon as I mention I’m in advertising, inevitably the show is brought up, asking “Is it really like that?” And while the show does a great job of showing the passion in the work and the big personalities the industry attracts, the fact is our business is way different than it was in that era. But it at least provides a starting point for outsiders to understand the industry. As an account guy, however, I will never forgive them for the way they portrayed Pete, initially.
The show does illustrate the passion and the insights that still are needed to deliver killer work. That hasn’t changed.
Whether it’s a national broadcast campaign, or an amazing website, good work must be fought for, must be well-presented and on strategy – that won’t ever change.
I can also say that having been a fan of the show, I’ve used a “Carousel” moment in a couple of pitches in the past three to four years that have been extremely well-received. I will take that away from the show – there is a significant theatrical aspect to our business that we can’t ignore. It’s the fun part of our clients’ day when they get to see our ideas, and making the presentation even bigger is never a bad thing.
Denise Blasevick, CEO, the S3 Agency
As the owner of an ad agency and a fan of “Mad Men”, I have watched the show regularly and enjoyed seeing how it affected people in and beyond the industry.
One of the biggest benefits I think that “Mad Men” has shown us is that, beyond the drinking and drama, the ‘60s Madison Avenue era was borne from great ideas. And those great ideas take time to develop and deserve proper in person presentation.
Today, we are so caught up in being fast (and hopefully first) that we may sacrifice the time it takes to get to the best place. We then all too often email concepts instead of providing a worthy presentation. Why does this happen? Is it how agencies prefer to act? It’s certainly not how my agency wants to work – and I don’t think the industry in general wants to do it that way, either. After all, we want to give our ideas the best fighting chance.
However, corporate budgets and timelines many times result in rushing, rushing, rushing, and that can necessitate half-baked ideas vie email exchanges and texts that result in actual finished campaigns. Does that allow the Don Draper magic to happen? Rarely.
If there is a lasting legacy of “Mad Men”, I can only hope it will be buying a bit more time for the idea. Because that’s what it should be all about.
Nora Miller, Co-Founder, Anderson Miller PR
I think the most lasting legacy of “Mad Men” will be telling the story of ad agencies during the peak of traditional marketing. It was simply TV commercials, print ads, brochures, billboards, and maybe some direct mail.
We don’t see Don Draper creating social media hashtags or dreaming up the next ALS ice bucket challenge. He was disappointed when Peggy Olsen pulled the honey-baked ham grocery store stunt. “Mad Men” will always be a capsule of what advertising looked like when the marketing channels were straightforward, before the Internet.
“Mad Men” is a heightened drama, but the themes of agency challenges are true to life – whether it’s staying up all night brainstorming the next creative breakthrough, or maintaining client relations. “Mad Men” has always been nice to watch after a tough week. I think agency professionals like myself will remember “Mad Men” scenes for years as a reminder that the daily details and hard work of an agency professional are worthwhile.
The office relationships are also something I will miss. Roger Sterling’s saying of ad men live and die by their accounts is true, and nowadays, agency executives move with different agencies as often as accounts do.
Making friends and keeping allies in other agencies is something that has become a survival skill for some. Some executives know that you’ll never be sure when you’ll need a friend to put in a good word.
Steven Hartman, Vice President of Marketing, VigLink
“Mad Men”, for many of us in the advertising industry, was enjoyable on multiple levels. On one level this time period series gave an equally entertaining as insightful view into the dynamics of a mid-1900s workplace. We saw just how far things have come for social, gender and racial inequities, as well as making us reflect on how far we still have to go.
On another level, “Mad Men” gave us an interesting contrast to how business was conducted in an analog world long before anything digital existed. As I watched this program throughout the seasons, there are a couple points about how they conducted business that intrigued me [which includes native advertising and new media channels].
Even back then we see advertising agencies wanting to make their client’s message flow with the media format they are consuming…and then dealing with blowback for potentially misleading the consumer. Take, for example, this scene, when Draper is being interviewed and questioned about their “Glow Coat Flo-Ex” commercials. Draper says, “I wanted it to be indistinguishable from the movies. I wanted people watching it and say ‘What’s happening in the story right now? Oh, it’s something different. It’s not an ad’ … at least for the first 30 seconds.”
Compare that to today’s world where John Oliver takes the offensive on native ads. Same core issue, just a different world of media where it’s surfaced.
Harry Crane negotiated his way to a promotion to be the departmental lead for TV after unsuccessfully pitching a Belle Jolie lipstick rep to air a commercial on The Defenders. Roger was smart enough to see that Sterling Cooper needed to invest and learn about how to leverage TV for the future success of their firm.
As “Mad Men” progresses through the seasons, we see television picking up larger audiences and advertisers and agencies lagging behind these trends in terms of their media-mix spending. Today, the rate and advancement of new marketing channels happen much more quickly, but the challenge is still the same – being able to see where audiences are consuming their media and spending the correct amount to gain their attention.
Jamie Falkowski, Marketing Director, Alldayeveryday
The first [thing I’ll always love about the show] is the power of connecting in the room and that inspiration can come from anywhere.
In the first episode, Don is struggling with a pitch for Lucky Strikes. We see him at the bar scribbling away on a napkin the night before the meeting with nothing. The research is back and it says simply that health claims won’t work anymore.
Going into the meeting the team is deflated and the client feels it but Don instantly turns a burden — medical claims are a dead end — into a solution: this is everyone’s problem. A few minutes of banter and you have a tagline, or at least a new direction: “It’s Toasted.”
Something simple and something that is true of every other brand is harnessed and turned into something only Lucky Strikes can own. Why? Because they made that simple fact a reality and a selling point; and it all came from the room.
The second thing is the power of story. Don has shot himself in the foot in later seasons when talking about personal stories, but in the classic Kodak carousel episode he brings his account exec to tears with an emotionally inspired story that puts the product in context. Every time I build a narrative for a presentation, I think of this moment. This was such a great part of the show that it went on to inspire this simple (and now very dated) piece of marketing.
CJ Johnson, Head of Creative and Marketing for Buddytruk
I’m a millennial Don Draper in a lot of ways. “Mad Men” was actually a huge influence for me.
The “nostalgia” monologue that Don Draper gave in the first season was the catalyst for helping me understand that my clients (consumers as well) want to feel emotionally connected to something. This has made me better at pitching projects, dealing with clients, and appealing to consumers.
Even though “Mad Men” is just a TV show, it’s a TV show that inspired a whole new generation of marketers and creatives. It also reinvigorated ad men (and women) who have been in the business for quite some time.
One of the most interesting things about “Mad Men” circles back to the moment I mentioned above. The nostalgia moment.
Everyone wants to feel connected. Everyone wants to remember the past and relive their most special moments. You can see it a lot with references to the ‘90s, the ‘80s, and the relaunching of old movies, and television shows. Even Levi’s reignited a relationship with an ad agency they haven’t worked with in years to give them more of a fun vibe vs the “Go Forth” campaigns.
“Mad Men” will no doubt go down as one of the best TV dramas ever. It was beautifully and meticulously executed by Matt Weiner and team. I’ll miss those quiet moments of introspection from Don Draper and how cooly Roger Sterling handled most situations. I wish there were more Roger Sterlings. It would make offices a lot funner.