It’s the 60’s in New York City and advertising executives coined the term “Mad Men” to describe themselves – Mad of Madison Ave. Advertising. Inspired by David Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Man”, the show’s 7 seasons ran from 2007 to 2015, each contributing to a period piece that captures the industry in full motion, in a time of transformation marked by creative directors, the surge of advertising conglomerates, the rise of TV and the appearance of pivotal technologies. It is more than fantastic television – Mad Men chronicles the 60’s through an industry that helped shape the modern West.
“Advertising is based on one thing; happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car; It’s freedom from fear; It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing, it’s OK. You are OK.”
The above line is told to client Lucky Strike seconds before the conception of their famous “It’s Toasted” tagline. Before the moment of clarity in the meeting, nothing quite hit home with the client – they shot down what research said about the dangers of cigarette smoking along with the rest of the ideas proposed in the pitch. When client is about to walk, it comes to them… Why get into an argument you cannot win? If you can’t convince people that smoking is healthy (it’s not), at least let them know it’s alright – “everybody else’s tobacco is poisonous, Lucky Strike’s is toasted” in the North Carolina sun.
Not only does the show reference a selection real life companies, historical events and iconic advertising campaigns, it consistently addresses the thinking that went behind advertising at the time. In this episode, we see the creative director build insight from conversations he had throughout the day – a waitress tells him she enjoys a smoke and his mistress says not to worry, “people love to smoke”. Is today’s world any different? Be it through the mass analysis of big data or yesterday’s survey’s, it comes down to understanding the customer.
Mad Men is a window to the past worth looking through. How did boutique agencies land million-dollar clients and merge into massive industry groups? Why are nostalgia and storytelling such powerful things? How did the rise of female ad execs change advertising? What challenges does the industry face today that it faced then? Where does technology meet creative and how did that come to be? Watch (between the lines, past the drama and day drinking) and see.