Mad Men, an ad man’s view

Most critics, and I share their views, have heaped praise on this superb period drama from a period not so long ago. With a career in advertising, that stretches back to the sixties, many of the images resonate strongly with me.  Four of them stand out. The ubiquitous cigarette,  the nonchalant sexism, the sleek coiffured hair and, yes, the pitch. How have they changed?

Perhaps the only real change is that offices are now smoke free zones, which is good. But it took 50 years or so and when Team Saatchi opened its doors 15 years ago, we were among the pioneers of no office smoking. Only in the last few years has it become the norm.  Mad Men can’t be helping anyone trying to quit right now.

Hair is still coiffured but with more imagination?  But Draper cannot compete with one of advertising’s most enduring, iconic images, a very British one, that of Dennis Compton, champion for Brylcreem, swashbuckling Test cricketer and England/Arsenal footballer.  Beckham, who?

Yes, of course we are more politically correct aren’t we? Mad Men wallows in “sexual banter not yet harrassment”. But a survey, only fifteen years ago, showed that of all creatives in advertising  less than 20% were women. Not a great leap forward.

Finally, the pitch. The props may have changed – relentless PowerPoint not an option, procurement a word related to sexual favours, below- the- line a dreary cousin and on-line beyond imagination – but the fundamentals remain.  The surge of focussed energy, the search for a winning strategy informed by client insight,( the search then less inhibited by political correctness) and the last minute ‘big idea.’

Add to this the casting ( who is today’s Don Draper?),and the performances needed to create compelling theatre on the day.   No change.

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