Mad Men is Hooey

OK, OK, I admit it. I tried to like this hip series about advertising in the early 60’s set in a large NYC ad agency on Madison Avenue.

But Don Draper and friends and lovers just don’t do it for me. Draper — judging by what’s does in the big client meetings is a copywriter. But his strait-laced B school manners make me think of him as an account guy. Somehow, he single-handedly saves big accounts by pulling all-nighters with a bottle of Scotch and his nubile secretary.

It’s nothing I’ve ever seen or lived. The show’s writer apparently was in the media department at BBDO. I was in the creative department at the same agency, I guess, a long time later.

I feel like a test pilot watching a sci-fi movie about space travel, except this sage stretches not far in the future but far in the past.

Or as Jane Maas in her book Mad Women, puts it “Nobody drank in the morning.”

I didn’t know anyone who did. I hung out with teetotalers? I don’t think so. Two of my friends and co-workers died of drink before they reached their 50’s. This is a memoir by a key player at Ogilvy Mather during the Mad Men era who went on to bigger things at Wells Rich Greene. (While the narrative seems to pull no punches, the change in creative style between package goods at O&M, as described in the book, to WRG must have been huge. How do you just go merrily straight from one to the other??)

As you might expect given that it’s written by a legendary copywriter, it is compulsively readable and highly recommended.

The other thing is that Mad Men drinkers seem to function pretty darn well. They don’t fall out of their chairs in meetings. Or black out on phone calls.

The Antisemitism of clients in the Mad Men show seems false, too. In most agencies, just assume everyone is Jewish and do your job. Think early Hollywood: Sam Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg — none of them were in the church choir.

Another book debunking Mad Men is The Real Mad Men. It’s about the creative revolution in advertising in the 60’s, which is more interesting to ad professionals than the fictional TV show, anyway.

For more on the legendary advertising of the time, see When Advertising Tried Harder. Spoiler alert: it contains more than a few killer Volkswagen ads.