Maas Dishes On Sex, Guilt and Creating Ads That Sell

Ad Age’s Rupal Parekh writes about a soiree she attended last week in the Manhattan penthouse apartment of former Ogilvy & Mather chairman-CEO Ken Roman to celebrate the publication of Jane Maas’ Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ’60s and Beyond. The piece signs off with Maas telling a roomful of advertising luminaries that “her proudest moment recently” came after she’d done an interview on NPR and overheard someone ask the receptionist who was on air.”

The receptionist replied: “I dunno ... some old lady talking about sex.”

Now that we’ve hooked you, we’ll get back to the sex later. While Maas evidently has vivid recall of days and nights that may be a blur to many other participants –- the book also draws on candid interviews with her contemporaries -– Maas’ impact on Madison Ave. has more to do with her groundbreaking accomplishments as a creative director and executive.

She joined Ogilvy & Mather as a copywriter in 1964 and left 12 years later for Wells, Rich, Greene, where she spearheaded the creative efforts for “I Love New York.” She also headed the creative group for the Procter & Gamble account. In 1989, Maas became president of the New York office of Earle Palmer Brown, where she is chairman emeritus. Among her honors are a Matrix Award and a New York Advertising Woman of the Year citation.

 “A real-life Peggy Olson, right out of Mad Men” blurbs Ogilvy & Mather chairman Shelly Lazarus, who says that Maas took her “under her wing” when she started as an account executive at O&M in 1971 and “taught me a lot about creative work that sells.”

It wasn’t necessarily the sort of advertising that wins Gold Lions. It was just the sort of advertising that wins customers.

“The National Organization of Women gave me their very first award for the most obnoxious commercial of the year depicting women,” she tells Kurt Anderson in an interview on NPR’s “Studio 360” on Feb. 28, the publication date for the book.

“I’m the only person in the world who has won the obnoxious commercial award twice in a row. But I sold a lot of Dove and a lot of Maxwell House Coffee.”

Sure, it’s inside baseball, but it captures the zeitgeist of a time when women, as Mary Wells Lawrence writes in the foreword, were “oh so slowly” beginning to claim their place in the advertising firmament. “You don’t have to identify with Peggy Olson on ‘Mad Men’ -- or even know who she is -- to appreciate” the book, writes the New York Times’ Sam Roberts (who was a city editor back in the day before newspapers were losing $7 in print advertising for every dollar they gain from digital).

“The picture that emerges of an era before the phrase ‘sexual harassment’ appeared is often not pretty, though the women in her account are hardly less cynical than the men,” Roberts points out.

“‘…The best way to get promoted from secretary to copywriter was for your boss to make it happen,’ Ms. Maas writes. ‘And the fastest way to make that happen was to make it with your boss.’”

Maas presumably will be relating some of these tales face to face on a 40-city book tour. You can keep tabs on her present-day thoughts and adventures as they unfold on Facebook.

In an interview on Huffington Post, Debra Ollivier asks Maas “Beyond sex, what other themes are you beholden to in your book?”

Maas replies: “I'm going to be 80 in March and I am having a wonderful romance. One of the subtexts here is the vibrancy of women who are aging, which doesn't come out in the book deliberately, but it's there as a spine. And the other spine is what you already asked -- the working mother guilt thing that hasn't changed.”

“The chief value of Mad Women is the witness it bears for younger women about the snobbery and sexism their mothers and grandmothers endured as the price of entry into mid-century American professional life,” writes James Rosen in the Boston Globe. “Whole strategy sessions would unfold for products like Tampax without the opinion of the lone woman in the room ever being solicited.”

Rosen also relates how Maas is wracked with guilt about everything from serving Swanson TV dinners to her family “almost every night” to the “whitewashed” nature of her first memoir, Adventures of an Advertising Women (1986).

“[A]ll the clients I described were smart and strategic, all our campaigns worked, and there was never a cloud in the blue sky over Madison Avenue,” Maas writes. “Nobody drank, smoked or had adulterous sex.”

It turns out that was hardly the case. Who knew?

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1 comment about "Maas Dishes On Sex, Guilt and Creating Ads That Sell".
  1. Joan A'Hearn from self , March 8, 2012 at 8:55 a.m.
    Haven't read it yet but will ... I am in my mid-70s and worked at D'Arcy Advertising in the late 50s, worked my way up from typist to copywriter ... later joined GE as speechwriter and found the same male-dominated culture prevailing ... wrote a book, "That's All She Wrote" about my speechwriting days from 1973-1988 at GE. Would like to know if Jane knew Roger Butler, a dear friend of mine who was at Olgivy for years died from ALS,