182. AMC's MadMen.
Jul 16, 2008 at 10:35AM

madmen.jpgWhen I first heard about AMC's MadMen, I was pretty determined not to watch it. Working in advertising, the last thing I’d want to watch is more advertising. But while visiting a friend I caught the first episode and was intrigued enough to buy the first season on dvd a few months later. The packaging (shots below) for the first series is great, coming in a larger version of a zippo lighter – appropriate for the immense amount of smoking that goes on in the offices of Sterling Cooper, the fictitious agency set in 1960 Manhattan. (The zippo sponshorship is brilliant product placement as it's not annoying and becomes a key visual element throughout the storyline.) I’m hooked. The attention to detail in the props/sets not to mention the portrayal of the advertising industry is enough to keep me watching; but the plot and characters are equally compelling. I’m eagerly waiting season two, which begins on the 27th. There have been several articles written about the series, none better than the two posts on Design Observer: Michael Bierut weighs in on the creative pitches and William Drenttel talks about being a madmen himself. But I couldn’t help compare and contrast the agency life as presented in MadMen with my own experience in advertising of about ten years.

Just a few thoughts, with no spoilers.

  1. Integrated campaigns. I don’t remember the last time we pitched business without pitching ambient, interactive, and alternative media to go along with broadcat and print. Watching Don Draper pitch an account using only three print ads seems downright neolithic. This underscores how much the industry has changed in the last forty years – you can’t serve your clients with a mere magazine campaign. I can’t help but wonder how they would pitch a new micro-site or how well they’d work with product placement.
  2. Presentations. I’ve worked with creative directors who were just as confident when presenting as Don Draper, though none had quite the amount of arrogance. I know they are out there, but I don’t think that approach would work very well anymore. I'm not sure if that’s because clients are more demanding and suspicious or if the industry is simply more transparent. Draper is smooth but not very empathetic in most pitches, with the beautiful Kodak presentation as an obvious exception.
  3. The drinking and the smoking. Thank goodness I don’t have to work in an environment where everyone smokes. I think you can still smoke on some floors at Leo Burnett (agency of record for RJ Reynolds), but like most other business – it’s a thing of the past. The drinking however is still very much evident but most often is done not during business but afterwards. I have never seen anyone offer scotch or gin during the day, but we’ve often had a few beers out during a longer client meeting or on Friday afternoons.
  4. Dress Code. It’s interesting to watch the creatives run around the agency in suits. This is strange as I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of my creative directors that I’ve worked with wearing a tie; let alone an entire suit. Most often my uniform is a tshirt and jeans. The attitudes have completely changed on this, as the best agencies are usually the most casual. Though a part of me would like the dress code to come back. Maybe for a week. Or just a day.
  5. Women. The woman at Sterling Cooper are looked at as second-tier people. They are secretaries and paper-filers and none of the important jobs at the agency are filled with women. I’d like to say that this still isn’t the case, but I simply haven’t seen many women in the creative departments of the agencies of today. Women have made more grounds in the account executive roles, but not so much in creative or management. Maybe that is changing.
  6. Art Department. The art department was secondary to the copywriters. The ideas came from the writers and the art directors simply slid the layouts under the door. Yikes! Today, the writers and art directors usually work together on the ideation and are more of a team throughout the creative process. I’m glad that I wasn’t an art director at Sterling Cooper, working in the dungeons.

Packaging Shots:



Be sure to check out the title sequence for the show too. It’s quite well-done and worth watching on it’s own merit.





Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
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