26 March 2012

What Mad Men Teaches Us About Advertising in 2012

The Diversity Committee will see you now
I didn’t watch Mad Men last night. I’m living it today.

There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, mind you. That early 1960s era is of particular interest to me. On my desk is a small photo of my grandfather taken right about that time.

In addition, I believe history teaches us a lot. In the same way following world history makes us better citizens, following advertising history makes us better at what we do.

What we do is sell. And modern times are the best times to be doing just that. The last great upheaval in advertising was driven by television, but it only happened once. Digital technology drives new upheavals all the time. It’s happening so fast that few can keep up with it or understand it. Major CPG companies struggle; former Mad Men seem to understand. But as Matt Nelson of Tribal DDB put it, now is the golden era for advertising.

In a similar reflection, Duff Stewart of GSD&M said “a successful leader in advertising… today is defined by curiosity.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. (Well – I tried, here and here.) With such a menu of challenges and buffet of media options, more than ever we can say “it’s all advertising” and get to the task of selling in new ways. We have much to learn.

One thing Mad Men can teach us is how little progress we’ve made on diversity. There’s more diversity among media options than the employees who practice them. It’s the best time to be in advertising – but it could be better.

1 comment:

  1. Steve, I agree wholeheartedly with you. I watched the premiere and there were three distinct points at which I found myself shuddering and saying, "Thank goodness I'm doing this now, but man, we've got a lot of work left to do!"

    In an attempt to not give away anything for those who still plan to watch, I'll describe them vaguely:

    1. Obvious gender and race discrimination in roles, responsibilities and mannerisms. - I would agree with you that there is a lot left to be desired in our current state with this, but at least secretaries are not defined as female and seeing African Americans in your waiting room doesn't demand an immediate executive meeting. Seeing their responses was a good reminder to consciously and continuously work to break down these ridiculous social issues.

    2. Coveting office space - A person who requires an big corner office with a window to feel justified in his (or her) position displays an obvious prioritization of status over the craftsmanship to which we are supposed to have dedicated our professional lives. In Mad Men last night, an executive meeting was called solely for this reason. Office obsession ran rampant in the 60s and still exists today, although our industry's leadership in more open work environments with less doors will hopefully help to emphasize what's truly important.

    3. Lack of partnership between agencies and clients - The strategic conversation about a campaign within the show lasted a whopping 30 seconds (if that). It was all about "shine" without substance, and when the client didn't like the presentation, there was a quick discussion about the direction they should take and then the client was quickly escorted out. Zero collaboration. This is one area in which I think our industry has and will continue to make progress. A meeting of the minds (including the clients') on a substantive level is essential to campaign success. No curtain or secret concept unveiling is productive - especially when it fails.