Toronto ad men (and women) on Mad Men
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May 16, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto ad men (and women) on Mad Men

Did the uber-popular show accurately reflect the advertising business?

OurWindsor.Ca

The series Mad Men wraps up Sunday, and among the cult followers of the show about the wild old days of the Madison Avenue advertising industry in the sixties are, naturally, the men and women who work in the business today.

Set in the fictional offices of ad agency Sterling Cooper and centred on the whisky-drinking, skirt-chasing yet mysterious ad executive Don Draper and his equally conflicted co-workers, the show that premiered on AMC in 2007 has been praised for its accurate reflection of numerous cultural themes of the times.

Along with its unflinching depiction of sexism, feminism, racism and, ahem, workplace decorum, the show was actually also about big business and the beginnings of how our consumer-driven culture was shaped.

So did Mad Men reflect the industry as advertised?

We asked five Toronto ad men (and women) who work in the advertising world, or once did, their thoughts on whether it did or not, and how they think all the craziness of Mad Men will end.


Jill King, president of One Advertising

How accurately did the show portray the advertising business?

Now this is a real polarizer amongst ad people. I think that MadMen is portraying the business fairly accurately. For the purposes of show biz they’ve definitely simplified a few things, but the portrayal of the agency as striving, struggling and not always succeeding in pleasing the client while occasionally producing brilliant work is, for me, very real in Mad Men. The era may have changed but the human component of the business — the partnerships, the egos, the occasional in-fighting and personality clashes — remain a constant in this business.

Best ad campaigns/pitches on the show?

My all time favorite — the Kodak Carousel. Not only was it a tremendous insight about how people treasure their memories and the transformative nature of photography it was one of the series’ best Don Draper moments. Madison Avenue’s slickest huckster and consummate philanderer was actually touched and nostalgic about family and days gone by. Maybe there’s more to this guy....

Are there really any Don (or Donna?) Drapers out there, or is it much more collaborative today?

Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus and there really are Don Drapers. Sure there are many great collaborators but there are also lots of, shall we call them, big personalities. Advertising is a certain part skill and science but also opinion, bravado and persuasive story-telling. A blessing and a curse, many shops’ reputations and business successes are founded on a Don Draper. Sometimes a tyrant, sometimes an inspired genius, but usually an odd mixture of both these types are still very much apart of ad culture.

Does the women’s style of doing business in the cut-throat industry differ much from men’s today, as it does on the show?

Thankfully yes. While there will always be basic differences in the way that men and women approach decision making, managing people, etc., I would like to think that style of doing business is now more about individual approach than being a man or a woman. Women and men, in principle, deal with each other as equals and more women now occupy senior positions where they were a rarity 30 years ago. Women are still grossly under represented in this business, especially in the creative department. We’ve come a long way since the sixties but there is still much to do.

How do you think the series will end?

Interestingly I worked at an agency that was subsumed by McCann Erickson (which took over Draper’s agency on the show.) A junior at the time, I think I barely processed what was going on. I did see the emptied offices, the new floor plan that didn’t include key people but gave others greater opportunities, the half-truths about the future and the fresh perspective that comes with change. Sadness and hope at the same time.

I think the future will be a mixed bag for our main Mad Men characters. Peggy and Pete will assimilate while Roger and Don — their magical era having come and gone — will go down swinging like Butch and Sundance.

Jeff Swystun, president of Swystun Communications, formerly headed DDB Worldwide’s branding and marketing:

How accurately did the show portray the advertising business?

One of the first memos that hit my desk after becoming chief communications officer at DDB in 2007 was a heads up that Mad Men was debuting. Creator Matthew Weiner had consulted with many of the ‘mad agencies’ and previous to my arrival had chatted with DDB’s chairman Emeritus, Keith Reinhard. The (show) has specifically called out (DDB’s) Volkswagen Think Small campaign that was named the best advertising campaign of the twentieth century by Advertising Age. No print ad looked liked it up until that point but many soon emulated it. Emulate is too kind a word. It was unabashedly copied.

Advertising agencies are strange animals. They are creative collectives and big business. We see the tension between these two camps building throughout the series. The show suggests that advertising was once art but when it starting making real money, artistic integrity was compromised. I don’t think that was ever true. And they missed key trends including the impact of television which is surprising given 4 out of 5 American households owned one in 1958. Changing demographics driven by youth culture barely registers.

Best ad campaigns/pitches on the show?

Many of the show’s pitches rely on nostalgia including Popsicle, Life Cereal, and Hershey’s. For me, the best was the Heinz work. The plot positioned mentor Don Draper against protégé Peggy Olson who has gone to a competing agency. Don goes ultra clean and simple with mouthwatering fast food photos. The accompanying line, “Pass the Heinz”, deliberately leaves out the word “ketchup” and does not show the product. The consumer is meant to visualize the red condiment completing the meal. Peggy’s pitch is equally clear but features the iconic bottle and the line, “Heinz. The Only Ketchup.” Both work and that is what makes it interesting.

Are there really any Don Drapers out there, or is it much more collaborative today?

Don is a gifted storyteller and that serves him well because people buy stories not products. I hear a few ad agency names that are referenced as modern day Dons. Some aspire to gain the comparison which is interesting. I see creative folks on the client side who represent what a modern Don should be. Jonathan Ive at Apple is case in point. He marries consumer behavior, technology, product design, packaging and messaging artfully.

Does the women’s style of doing business in the cut-throat industry differ much from men’s today, as it does on the show?

Gender issues persist but I never experienced a female colleague unnaturally modifying her behavior to succeed. I have seen the industry make conscious change. I have always been struck by the fact that women make up to 80 per cent of household purchase decisions so any agency that does not have them meaningfully represented within the business is brain dead.

How do you think the series will end?

Advertising professionals are horrible at predicting. Consumerism has never been about fulfillment, it is a dazzling parlor game of distraction. That is a primary message of Mad Men. Don will share sage, yet flawed, wisdom (and) we will hang on his every word and action because we are looking for answers.

Judy John, CEO of ad agency Leo Burnett Canada

How accurately did the show portray the advertising business, and how does it compare to today?

While I think in many regards the advertising business has changed a lot — the work ethic, the role of women and media channels — the fundamentals of the business are the same as you see in Mad Men. How the business works, pitches, briefs, insights, creative ideas, and figuring out how to sell it are the same. The roles are the same: creative, account managers, media people, but there are so many more now.

Gone are the good old days of smoking and drinking in the office and all day liquid lunches. Who has time for that? Now we’re eating lunch at our desk as we pour over email we haven’t gotten to.

Best or most interesting ad campaigns/pitches on the show?

The best pitch of the show was Kodak Carousel. I still remember how mesmerized I was during Don’s speech. It showed Don’s skill as a master storyteller and salesman.

Are there really any Don (or Donna?) Drapers out there, or is it much more collaborative today?

There are still shades of Don/Donna Drapers out there but it’s much harder to be an island. The business is so much more complex, you need other people to succeed.

Does the women’s style of doing business in the cut-throat industry differ much from men’s today, as it does on the show?

I don’t see a difference between women’s and men’s style of doing business today. I think they are much more similar than the days of Mad Men because there is a greater level of equality now.

How do you think the series will end?

I think the series will end with the characters all going their separate ways and ending up at different agencies. That’s naturally what happens in the business, few teams stick together for long periods of time.

Andrew McCartney, managing director, Tribal Worldwide

How accurately did the show portray the advertising business?

It strikes home as being well researched, although certain cliches (Scotch for breakfast) were overboard. There are remnants of that culture present today, such as working late nights, overnight and lots of drinks and partying to ease the stress — the key difference being the drinks happen after work now. The other key difference I noted is that while there remains a lot of ego in advertising, people are much less selfish than they were portrayed on the show. Most in the industry are genuinely good people trying to do the right thing for their ideas, clients and agencies.

Best ad campaigns/pitches on the show?

The Lucky Strike ‘Smoking Pitch’ when Draper pulled it out by highlighting the whitespace opportunity.

Are there really any Don (or Donna?) Drapers out there, or is it much more collaborative today?

Of course there are and thankfully there are more and more Donna Drapers breaking the glass ceiling every day. It is far more collaborative – we work at a roundtable where everyone’s point of view and ideas are welcome.

Does the women’s style of doing business in the cut-throat industry differ much from men’s today, as it does on the show?

There are lots of cutthroat people still in the business today, however gender is no longer a differentiator.

How do you think the series will end?

I anticipate more sunset than fireworks or heavy drama. With Pete’s opportunity to move to Kansas and unite with his family and Don’s cross-country tour cut short learning that his ex-wife Betty has cancer, they will realize that there is far more to life than advertising. What happens at the new merged agency is less relevant as this was a story about character, heroism and humanity, or the gross lack of it.

Alan Middleton, York U marketing professor and former ad man in Canada and the U.K.

How accurately did the show portray the advertising business?

In the U.S., accurately. Pretty much everywhere else in the world, total exaggeration. Canada and the U.K. didn’t have boozing in the offices. There certainly was a lot of philandering back when I started in 1968. Also, women weren’t at the same levels. There weren’t that many Peggys, so the pressure she was under was very real. In Canada and the U.K. women were being promoted to more senior levels than in the U.S.

They also exaggerated the ‘who you know’ getting them business overnight. Knowing someone was helpful, but you still had to pitch. It’s also very odd for an ad agency to say, as they did on the show, ‘Here is our solution for your product.’ No client would put up with that; that was artistic license.

Best pitches/ad campaigns:

“Some of the real things were the best. The nice stuff for Heinz, where they recaptured childhood. Lucky Strike’s “Toasted” campaign.

Any Don (or Donna) Drapers in the industry, or is it more collaborative today?

There were certainly a lot of dominant characters in the industry. Don was interesting because he definitely had status beyond his title. And there was a lot of booze in those days…It’s more collaborative today. Don was unusual. You often had the head writer, the art director, and creative. The mavericks built the business.

Did women’s style of doing biz differ from the men’s

It was the old adage: ‘Yeah, we’ll hire women but they have to be smarter and much more like us.’ The industry was very male-driven, particularly in the U.S. If a woman got promoted it was assumed she either was superb or unique, like Peggy, or that she slept her way to the top. The general women’s movement helped the process, and eventually the client’s attitude to agencies changed. The client was in charge and in some cases were in awe of the creative work of the ad agency. Then clients in the 80s started to do their own market research, understanding women’s attitudes came into play. In the 80s and 90s, there was more acceptance of both genders.

How will it end?

I think it will be the start of a new era. This is drama after all. The point is these guys love what they do. Roger won’t want to go off and play golf. He was already rich when he started. Maybe next it will be a spinoff, Son of Mad Men…or Mad Women.

Toronto Star

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