Hello And Goodbye To Mad Men

“Mad Men” returned last night after a 17-month hiatus, and it is good to have the show back. The hour-long drama has characters and storylines that are deeply compelling. Although you never know exactly where the story is going, you always have the sense that it’s going somewhere. The show has left an indelible imprint on the advertising industry, similar to what “L.A. Law” did for lawyers and “The West Wing” for politicians.

Because I’m a fan of advertising and its history, it’s almost impossible for me not to think about the show each time I’m in Manhattan, especially when I visit agencies like Y&R at 285 Madison Avenue. It was here that the real Don Draper, Draper Daniels, toiled as a copywriter a half century ago. When I drink at former industry haunts like Keen’s Steakhouse, I quietly raise my glass to the industry giants that came before me. I know many of them by name because I’ve read the books that inspired Matthew Weiner to create Mad Men.”From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor: Front-Line Dispatches from the Advertising War” by Jerry Della Femina and “Ogilvy on Advertising” are on my bookshelf.



The very last vestiges of the era are now fading into history, though. Most of the original Mad Men are gone, driven to an early grave by some of the same products that they marketed. The ones that somehow survived it all are living legends. These Mad Men of yore will sometimes complain about the quality of today’s advertising and its obsession with technology. Like the fine arts, much of the world’s creative energy has been funneled into new industries like software and gaming. But when you go back and look at the advertising of that era, it’s clear that much of it would not work as well today. The proliferation of ads and the fragmentation of media make it far more difficult to cram a message -- no matter how well-written -- down the throats of the masses like you could in the 1960s.

The aging Mad Men will often say that their times were wilder and more fun. That may be true, although anyone who lived through the dot-com startup boom and the advent of digital media knows that fun was not confined to the ‘60s. In some ways it was more extravagant, what with the industry boondoggles to the Caribbean, publisher-sponsored ski houses in Lake Tahoe and web site launch parties in Las Vegas. I fully expect that someday a writer will tell the story of that era in an entertaining way, too.

However, the Mad Men are right in the sense that agencies are more sedate and professional now, especially compared to the workplace shenanigans that Della Femina describes in his book. Agency-sponsored inter-office hookups and open drug use would certainly not pass muster with HR today. The flipside of this institutionalized debauchery is that agencies are now safer and more diversified places to work. And while still not statistically likely, it's now at least possible that someone other than a white male can get the top agency jobs.

Advertising’s creative revolution is now just a memory. We have spent the last decade transforming advertising into a technology business, a relentless process that will continue until all media is targeted, dynamic and electronic. Fittingly, next year Y&R will pack up its offices on Madison Avenue and move uptown to Columbus Circle. While 285 Madison will forever be connected to the “Mad Men” era, the building’s nest of small offices had long ago stopped serving its workforce properly.

It’s time to turn the page and write advertising’s next chapter.

8 comments about "Hello And Goodbye To Mad Men".
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  1. Rita from FreshAddress, Inc., March 26, 2012 at 11:12 a.m.

    Of equal interest to the inspiration of the main character in ‘Mad Men’ is Myra Janco Daniels, who was recently honored for her drive and vision.

    “She taught us the importance of never resting on laurels and always planning the next move." Seems like a Daniels family trait!

  2. Stephen Shearin from ionBurst Media, March 26, 2012 at 11:21 a.m.

    Great article overall, but your final thought drives it home. Digital gave advertising a chance at a fresh take on it all, for new Daniels or Ogilvys to emerge. A new dimension that can support or augment traditional media or stand on its own; and it hasn't been realized yet. Here's to the next chapter. May it be as fun as it is creative.

  3. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, March 26, 2012 at 11:42 a.m.

    Matt, this is a terrific and poignant column.

  4. Yuko Ichihara from NYU, March 26, 2012 at 12:18 p.m.

    When I started my career as a copywriter, DDB’s VW ads were on our textbook. My soul rooted in that era. Over the last couple of decades we have come a long way. Is it the advertising industry that propelled us into the age of ‘big data’?

  5. George Parker from Parker Consultants, March 26, 2012 at 3:37 p.m.

    Matt... You are missing the whole point... It was agencies like Draper Daniels that crammed ads down consumers throats. It was the DDB's, Ogilvy's, Tinkers, etc that treated consumers with respect and persuaded them to buy products and services with intelligent advertising. Even so, 90% of the advertising produced in the 60's was crap... Today, 90% of the advertising is still crap... Whether it be digital, social, viral, or whatever the flavor du jour is. You really should put "The Book of Gossage" on your bookshelf... "Along with "Confessions of a Mad Man."
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  6. Matt Straz from Namely, March 26, 2012 at 10:53 p.m.

    Thanks for all the great feedback. George, I have your book on my e-shelf as well. Very entertaining!

  7. Steven Clarke from a440, March 27, 2012 at 10:57 a.m.

    I grew up in this world. Ok it was my Dad's world. Tom Clarke started as an animator (drawing toon-based ads for AC in Detroit for the Disney show - Sparky the spark-pug horse and the St. Bernard with an oil filter around his neck instead of a small barrel of brandy). He lead the revolution of print advertising with the use of photography. If you look pre-60's magazine ads they are hand drawn. He worked @ Campbell Ewald and K&E in Detroit and later for for agencies in NYC. We lived in Connecticut and he took the train with people like Arnold Copeland (who designed the first Micky Mouse telephone). You did not want to be at the Westport/Saugatuck train station if the train was late as the men were in the bar car and their wives were in the bar at Marios.
    Today we digitally cut and paste.
    Back then, as an art director, he used scissors and rubber cement. Their parties were the stuff of legend. As Steely Dan put it "Those days are gone forever. Over a long time ago" I for one am happy about it as those days were not kind to my Mother. I have still not seen the show. I am happy to have survived my childhood.

  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 4, 2012 at 12:40 p.m.

    Not that everything was so ideal, but parts that are missed is the personal, vis a vis, connections and one did not need be a math major/technical expert to be able to advance.

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