The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

You’re Mad Men If You Want To Be Like Mad Men …
December 4, 2009, 6:13 am
Filed under: Comment

I – like many people – really enjoy the show Mad Men.

Well written, well cast and well executed … it’s American television at its absolute best, something we often forget they are so skilled at.

The thing is, as much as the subject matter is adland, it’s really a show about people with advertising simply serving as the backdrop.

Sure there’s some classic bits like this …

… but the show works because of the drama, intrigue and tension between the characters, not because they’ve written a great ad for Kodak or something.

Of course people in the industry have tried to ‘own’ the show and that’s understandable because our impact and value is so small these days, we are always looking for a way to keep the delusion and illusion alive.

I can’t remember who said it, but the best quote I heard about why ad folk love the show is something like ‘it reflects an industry we’d love to work in’ which I think is rather amusing given the show is fiction, not a documentary.

Of course it’s nice to see an agency dealing with a CEO of a company rather than some middle management lacky … sure it’s brilliant to see an agency fighting for what they believe in rather than simply crumbling at the first objection … sure it’s warming to see society value the industry rather than view them as overpaid, out-of-touch, wankers … but was it really like that back then?

OK, so without doubt agencies were more influential which – arguably – translated to them being able to do more interesting things, but the way some people go on, you would think everything they touched was gold plated genius.

Recently I asked a mate of mine to name one of the best creatives of the past 40 years.

Because we both know him, he said Neil French.

Now regardless what you may think of him, he was/is an amazing creative guy – and an astouding writer – so I then asked my friend how many truly great campaigns he thought he [Neil] had done.

After some consideration, he said that there was probably 15 or 20 campaigns that have gone into ad-folk lore.

So then I said if Neil has done 20 great campaigns in a career so far spanning 40 years, that would average out to be 1 bit of genius every 2 years.

Now of course these numbers are vague, the definition of ‘genius’ is open to all sorts of interpretations and some/most people would never be able to get close to anything Neil had done if they had a lifetime to try … but think about it … one campaign of uber-brilliance every 2 years.




… and yet the way the history books and media describe it, they were churning future history out every bloody week.

Now I don’t want to decry the amazing achievements of the people from the past [or those still in the present] – they did stuff that still stands the test of time and makes a mockery of many of today’s so-called advertising superstars – but the reality is that I don’t want to look at Mad Men and think that was the time when advertising was at its peak, I want to feel it’s still to come.

Of course I know it’s going to be more difficult and more challenging – but as much as I decry a lot of adland – I know there’s some amazing agencies and people out there … agencies and people that could put Don Draper and his cronies to the sword … agencies and people who actually do deal with CEO’s, fight for what they believe in and do things that causes a fundamental positive shift in their clients business … and whilst not everything they touch may turn to gold, they may have a better track record than the Kings of the Past, even if they still are the ones with the cooler stories.

Advertising isn’t dead … just the ambitions of the industry are.

25 Comments so far
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One of the things that I think keeps people gripped and talking the show is that none of the characters are “perfect”. They all have their problems and they all do some really dumb stuff.

Even ad genius Don can make an amazing client presentation one day, and do something outstandingly stupid next. Which I guess comes back to your point about not everything you touch necessarily turning to gold.

Comment by rafik

Did you change your blog release time on purpose just to piss of Andy..?

Comment by niko

anyone in the industry who reads this blog should treat this post as their holy grail

campbell is 39, done more cool shit than you could poke a fucking stick at and yet still wants to create history rather than recreate it and thats why hes so fucking good.

great things were done by adland in the past, bigger, better, bolder shit than most of what has been churned out in the last 15 years but that doesn’t mean it was the golden age of the industry, its just becoming that way because too many fuckers dont want to make a difference they just want to make an ad.

i love this post so fucking much that i cant make a single fucking sarcastic comment, thats the ultimate fucking compliment especially when niko and rafik got here before me.

Comment by andy@cynic

I know why Andy has gone mad for this post, there’s just so many gems:

“The show is fiction, not a documentary”

“I don’t want to look at Mad Men and think that was the time when advertising was at its peak, I want to feel it’s still to come”

“Advertising isn’t dead … just the ambitions of the industry are”

I really like Mad Men but like you and Rafik said, it’s not really about advertising, that’s just the backdrop provided for the characters to demonstrate their flaws and prejudices. Maybe because we live in a nanny state its appeal is heightened or maybe it’s just a well written and performed show but I do cringe when the industry clambers on to the Mad Men bandwagon especially when the subtext is “it was more interesting back then” which seems pretty defeatist even more so when publically they act like we’re still placed on a pedestal by public and business alike.

I’m with Andy, this is a great post and sums up one of the reasons I wanted to work with you guys and I’m not even trying to be a toady with that comment. LOL.

Comment by Pete

I know the figures are guesstimated in your Neil French analogy, but what you’re demonstrating is interesting and I hadn’t thought of it that way.

He’ll kill you when he sees you though. 🙂

To Rafik’s point, is Don Draper based on Neil?

Mr French’s talent is without question but I’ve also heard stories that say he was genius one day, stupid the next. Care to elaborate Robert?

Comment by Pete

Isn’t the problem with the ad industry that too many people think that it’s purpose is to make ads?

Comment by John

People who think Mad Men reflects what really happened every day in an advertising agency deserve to be disappointed with what they get today.

Comment by Bazza

Craking post Rob. And what a history making comment by Andy, well deserved.

“Isn’t the problem with the ad industry that too many people think that it’s purpose is to make ads?”

I’d throw in that the problem with the ad industry isn’t people wanting to just make ads, but moreso people just wanting to win one of the HUNDREDS of awards on offer so they can jump to the next higher paying gig. Even Don Draper did it for the client… and I’m sure Neil did too. I know this is a harsh generalization from someone who hasn’t been around long enough to really comment – but I’m yet to meet many creatives who care as much as those before us did (even the fictional versions).

Comment by Age

I didn’t just mean people in the industry, it applies as much to the people who hire the industry.

Comment by John

doddsy. thats one of them but its not all the agencies fault.

droga did a fucking good ad (yes an ad but it had a real fucking benefit in it) for some bathroom cleaner and the client pulled the fucking thing when some feminazis kicked up a fuss. read it at

where the fuck are clients balls? why did the bitching of a few bitches make them blink? dont they know that the screaming baby needs to be addressed not panded too? no fucking wonder its all gone to shit when clients dont want to upset any fucker, even if that fucker would never buy the product in the first place.

brands mean something but now it clients want them to mean nothing. wasnt like that back in mad mens day. boom fucking tish.

Comment by andy@cynic

Amendment: Isn’t the problem with the ad industry that too many people (inside and out) think that its sole purpose is to make ads.

Comment by John


Comment by andy@cynic

The thing that pisses me off most is that I would imagine the majority of people in adland – especially at a senior level – would think I am a dick for having this view.

I may be a dick for a lot of things, but it’s not because of this – infact I’d say anyone who thinks the industry is in a good state [and I include everyone involved in marketing, not just the agencies] are the ones who are living in as fictional a World as Don Draper and his gang.

As an industry we were great, we’re not so great anymore – and yet there are brilliant people scattered all around – it’s just there’s too many agencies and clients holding them down because they don’t want to invest in the future, they are only focused on their personal present.

As I wrote once before, the biggest achievement for many senior guys in communication is being patient … and that makes me sick.

Neil might be a lot of things, but passively pleasing passive people wasn’t ever one of them.

He didn’t want to change the World, he just wanted to sell stuff for his clients in more interesting ways (which was beneficial to the masses) and that should be the minimum we all strive for because we’re in the commercial art business, not the art business.

My name is Robert Campbell, I may never get a job again. Ha.

Comment by Rob

And another: “The biggest achievement for many senior guys in communication is being patient”

Apart from the independents, or semi-independents, which senior multinational agency heads can people name who were worthy of note prior to getting their corner office?

There will be some, but when there appears to be more senior management in multinationals than workers, I think it’ll be a single digit percentage.

Comment by Pete

You nailed it Robert. The issue is not one of ability, it is about attitude however if this is allowed to continue then ability may also start to be adversely affected.

An excellent read.

Comment by Lee Hill

Holy compliments Adman. What the fuck did you do to Andy with this post?

Absolutely though, combine this with Dave Trott’s post on taking risks and you have a great starter for how adland should be!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

dont know mortimer but i still fucking love it and have k bashing it out to every lucky bastard who has ever worked with us or for us under the subject “this is why you use us, need us, love us”

woe fucking betide anyone who dares answer back negatively, especially our peace and love mob at mountain view because this is why they came to us in the first place.
that and my hot fucking looks.

and you dont take risks, you make a judgement based on certain fucking facts and certain fucking objectives. havent those bastards at jwt taught you anything? lol

Comment by andy@cynic

Hasn’t Neil stopped being a creative to concentrate on being a caricature of himself full-time?

Comment by Billy Whizz

I know my comment is like smacking the pope. Deal with it.

Comment by Billy Whizz

youre developing well whizz

Comment by andy@cynic

Andy: Well, firstly I would say that there is inherently nothing wrong with making those type of judgements, providing that you take risks where you think they are right, and you challenge and fight for work where you think it is right.

The problem comes when those judgements are used to limit thinking and stifle creativity. Why would you not pick the most creative idea that meets what you need?!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Oh, and calling this place JWT is like calling Sunshine the same as M+C. Linked but a reasonably different style and attitude… though in both cases I believe the more serious ‘partner’ is changing for the better.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I actually think Andy was agreeing with you Mr M … the issue is more the literal word ‘risk’ as it tends to represent [in clients eye] “last chance” or “unlikely outcome” and so it is more likely to alienate than attract … whereas if you explain the rationale to your approach, then it no longer is ‘risky’ it’s sound [twisted] logic and so your idea has a greater chance of getting through.

I know you know this – but the word ‘risk’ and ‘brave’ might appeal to adland but not clients and if we want better work to get through, it’s about understanding emotionally what they want to buy rather than what we want to sell.

And Andy couldn’t give a shit about Sunshine/M&C, he thought I was bonkers to do it so your words will simply go over his head, like our appeals to cut his entertainment budget, ha!

Comment by Rob

I know this is a bit off topic, but I’ve just read something from my old boss, Steve Henry, that say’s something that I think is both hugely insightful and devastatingly important …

“Only a tiny proportion of marketing comms are interesting enough to elicit a response.

Big ideas take risks.

We talk up the idea of entrepreneurs – but the ad industry finds every way it can to take every ounce of risk out.

Entrepreneurs take risks.

Maybe Millward Brown should rechristen themselves Millward Brown Trousers, since the whole thing is just an elaborate and expensive way to cover scared arses.

At GGT years ago, Dave Trott did a poster for LWT that took the piss out of the Ayatollah Khomeini. He received death threats and all the creatives working for him thought that was fantastic.

(That’s come out slightly wrong. I don’t mean we all wanted Dave to be killed by an Iranian hit squad. Just that we loved the idea of an ad provoking that fierce a response)

When was the last time your agency did something like that ?

More importantly, when was the last time it even wanted to do something like that ?”

He’s still got it and I still realise that I still have so much to learn and do.

His last 2 sentences are fantastic – even if the ‘Milward Brown Trousers’ is comdey gold.

So when was the last time your agency wanted to even do something that would provoke a fierce response? That’s something that I need to take a long hard look at – both externally, but even more, internally.

Comment by Rob

He still has it doesn’t he Robert.

I am sure he doesn’t need the money or the hassle but I do find it amazing he makes his living freelancing when he has so much experience and edge to offer.

Are you still in touch? He would be impressed with some of your recent posts, this one especially.

Comment by Lee Hill

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