People are always asking me what I think of Mad Men. That’s because for the last three or four years I’ve included a section in my presentations about the history of advertising creatives, and a big chunk of it focuses on the era Mad Men inhabits.
Now everybody thinks I do it because of Mad Men.
Someone left a comment on an Ad Age article that sums up my take on the show. It went something like this:
“Mad Men is as much about the advertising industry as The Godfather was about the mafia.”
Great movies, The Godfather I & II. Classic tragedy, genius movie making. And I enjoy Mad Men.
However, as a rule I’m not a big soap opera fan – and Mad Men is primetime soap. My guess is that only about a fifth or sixth or less of screen time has anything to do with the wonderful world of advertising. Mostly it’s steamy bubbles.
And that's fine. Probably better. It's sumptuously produced dark froth, brilliantly performed. At times it morphs into classic tragedy and very good theatre. Just as often it sinks into cliché silliness.
Partly to ride the crest of the show’s success and partly to defend the industry, The One Club (along with The New York Public Library) is sponsoring an exhibition titled The Real Men and Women of Madison Avenue and their Impact on American Culture. AdRants’ Angela Natividad was there for the opening and has a fascinating take on it all.
While it wouldn’t make good soap – Leo Burnett, Rosser Reeves, David Ogilvy, Shirley Polykoff, Bernice Fitz-Gibbons, Mary Wells Lawrence, Bill Bernbach, George Lois, and others were infinitely more interesting than the stereotypical characters on Mad Men. A series inspired by the lives and work of these real life ad folks would entertain me a lot more. Drama? Sure. Comedy? Oh, yes.
However, Mad Men doesn't pretend to be about the greats of 1950s/60s advertising – but about the others who worked in the industry. Your normal neurotic types. They also represent a dying breed. If the series plays out with any nod to reality, they'll be picked off one by one.
And those creative team hit men do scare the bejesus out of me.