Commentary

The Really Mad Men

George Lois on PBSLast year's entertaining if not especially critical paean to '60s advertising "Art & Copy, "comes to public television Tuesday night at 10 p.m. in many markets as part of the Independent Lens series. For this showing America Ferrara plays host.

This is the series' season premiere. Clips, the trailer and an Ad Slogan Generator are available at the PBS site.

I have to admit a special fondness for this film despite its shallowness. I was raised in advertising. My father was a creative director at small N.J. agencies and then finally owner of his own small shop. He literally had his drawing board in my sister and my bedroom when we lived in a three-room apartment. He taught me how to do a paste-up before I was 12. I was still so short when I was running the stat camera for him later in his first business that they had a foot stool there for me to reach the apparatus. I never had a CAT scan in later years, but I am pretty sure I inadvertently inhaled enough magic marker and rubber cement thinner fumes to carve out a hunk of my frontal lobes.

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Dad was no Don Draper. He stayed out on the Jersey burbs as the king of auto sales ad cartooning. He could turn just about any fugly car lot owner into a friendly-faced caricature for the back pages of the sports section. But I got to tag along with him to other agencies and meet the kinds of guys who gravitated to the field in the '60s. They were in personality at least very much like the cast of creatives in in this film, from George Lois to Weiden and Kennedy, Mary Wells to Hal Riney. The brio and bravado is impressive, the self-regard almost breathtaking. Above all else the Mad men I remember from childhood never let a hint of self-doubt show. If there is a serious flaw to this otherwise fun documentary, it is that the filmmaker doesn't let much doubt about their preening show through either.

But the creativity here is electric. These people were brilliant in a way that we would love to see reiterated in an online ad world never renowned for its clever spark. As the film recounts, when copy and art were brought together finally to co-create, advertising became entertainment. Whether it became the mind-expanding cultural force George Lois and Mary Wells imagine it to be, is another matter.

While I was raised in advertising, the next part of my life was spent in academia as a cultural historian. From that field's perspective the real product advertising always sold us was the ethic of consumption itself. To hear the old guard of advertising insist they were changing the world reminds me of one little Don Draper-ism my father did once lay on me. "The easiest person in the world to sell something to is a salesman," he once told me. "They are the ones who want to believe in it more than anyone."

 

Watch the full episode. See more Independent Lens.

4 comments about "The Really Mad Men".
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  1. John Mucha from Maximum Marketing, October 26, 2010 at 3:27 p.m.

    Steve, thanks for the heads up on the show. What agencies did your Dad work at or own? I also worked at a few small agencies in the 'burbs of New Jersey in the '70's and '80's.

  2. Heidi Schmidt from Waterfront Media, October 26, 2010 at 3:54 p.m.

    Steve,
    The show sounds very interesting. You reminded me of my childhood as my father worked as a graphic designer in NJ. I helped out at his office by running the stat machine and the typositor for him.

    Did your father work for Keyes Martin by any chance?

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 26, 2010 at 5:03 p.m.

    Shared sentiment passed on to many sales people. I was taught earlier than my ad career was considered the 3 principles of advertising: 1st is to get their attention, 2nd to keep their attention and the 3rd is to keep their attention.

  4. Sheridan Sands from Initiative, October 26, 2010 at 11:44 p.m.

    Streaming Art & Copy from Netflix. Thanks for the review and recommendation. Always enjoy your articles.

    Cheers

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