Mad About Mad MenBy: Yehudit Mam
I love Mad Men. I love Peggy, I love Joan, I adore Roger, and I harbor a perverse crush on the horrible Pete Campbell. But I’ve had it with Don Draper. What a boring man! It has taken him seven seasons to learn something. His compulsive romps in the sack became tedious long ago; his self-destructive arrogance is obnoxious. But one thing redeems him: he is really good at what he does. He may be a royal screw up in his personal life, and, in my opinion, a terrible boss and a not great colleague, but boy, can he sell those ads.
My favorite part of the show is how it portrays the advertising business, an industry that is not easily translated to the screen. Doctors cure patients, lawyers defend people, the police scare everyone to death. Advertising people, however, do all kinds of creative and craven things.
It’s an absurd profession, and Mad Men gets it right.
Cleverly, the show has used actual campaigns, which is not only brilliant brand placement, but it grounds Mad Men in its cultural context. It’s fun to guess which are real, and which have been written or tweaked by Don and his team. I love nothing more than being a fly on the wall in their concept presentations. As a creative director, I can identify with uncanny accuracy the winners from the clunkers. Sometimes Don’s work is brilliant, as in his concept of the Carrousel slide projector for Kodak (season 1, episode 13), and sometimes it’s way off the mark, like his suicidal “jumping off point” campaign for a Hawaiian hotel (season 6, episode 1). (Speaking of being both on and off the mark: had I been the Hershey’s client, Don’s confession about getting chocolates from a whore in the brothel where he grew up [season 6, episode 13] would have landed him the account.)
Watching him sell a campaign is a thing of beauty. The way he sets up the work he is about to present is sheer poetry. I must confess that Peggy’s presentation of the Burger Chef campaign (season 7, episode 6) that they worked on together brought tears to my eyes. Peggy and Don transformed a crummy fast-food joint into a dream of home (as I said: absurd profession). The clients were right to love it.
The agency’s volatile relationships with its clients are also remarkably true to life. A few clients are smart, like Rachel, owner of Menken’s department store, who showed Don who was boss. Most are mediocre marketers, old-fashioned even for their time. And then you have the horror stories, like those dolts from Detroit, or the client who expected to have sex with Joan. Nothing you see in Mad Men is an exaggeration. If anything, the creative presentations are too short. In the real world they seem to go on forever.
LOGISTICS: The second part of Mad Men’s final season airs April 5 on AMC