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'Mad Men' Recap: Introducing SC&P

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Sterling Cooper & Partners. SC&P, for short.

Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) on 'Mad Men'
Ron Jaffe/AMC
Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) on 'Mad Men'

We finally have a new name and, in a weird way, it’s a shocker. If you had told me that the long national nightmare of the nameless “Mad Men” agency would have been resolved with a shingle that omitted Draper, Cutler and Chaough, to say nothing of  Campbell, I would have expected a mushroom cloud where the Time-Life Building is.

Instead, there’s relative calm. Things are groovy, even. Ted Chaough and Jim Cutler are cool with it. In fact, it was their doing. Don Draper goes along with it so easily it’s as though his ego had been surgically removed. It’s only Pete Campbell who freaks, a reaction that in the end might even be productive. After all, it leads the tightly-wound fellow to grab a joint and take in an eyeful of a short skirt and go-go boot combo in the final scene. Maybe the christening of SC&P will lead Pete to stop worrying and enjoy the 1960s.

Life is all about compromise and the naming of this unholy union was no different.  The real reason that SC&P is SC&P is that Chaough and Cutler give up their rights to the name as a way of distracting the others from the frayed feel of the agency -- and from their own machinations, like putting Bob Benson, maybe an ally, on the Chevrolet account with Cosgrove. The agency is trying to figure out how to work together and it’s not going terribly well. New business is coming in, but the staff is edgy, as exemplified when Michael Ginsberg, one of Don’s boys, lashes out at Cutler, calling the senior partner a racist, anti-Semitic, fascist, Nazi pig when he asked Ginsberg about the status of some work for Manischewitz, an account on the outs.

America in 1968 was more than a little edgy. And, in light of history, the agency’s attempt to figuring out how to work together was in stark contrast to what was going on in the outside. Woven throughout the episodes are televised snippets of the Democratic National Convention, the disastrous affair that resulted in violent clashes between protestors and Chicago police. Everyone is pissed off: from the long-haired creative who want the Dems to come out against the Vietnam War to gray-haired executives upset at what the hippies are doing to the country.

That feel of unrest is reflected in the episode’s title, “A Tale of Two Cities,” a reference to the Dickens book set during the French Revolution but also to a plot that flips back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, where Don, Roger and an ascot-festooned Harry Crane have flown to do some client meetings and schmooze with studio heads. California has always been a place of departure for “Mad Men.” Back in season two, Don and Pete went there to meet defense contractors and Don ended up in Palm Springs with that strange pack of Eurotrash jetsetters. Years later, it was a trip to Disneyland brought him together with Megan.

This trip west begins with a meeting at the Carnation Company, with its $27 million in billings, and ends up at a party in the Hollywood Hills, encountering just the sort of weirdness you’d expect. There’s plenty of vapid Hollywood types, among them Danny Siegel, the diminutive former copywriter at the firm and cousin to Roger’s ex-wife, Jane. Danny -- who now goes by Daniel -- is a sort of fledgling producer with a giggling hippie girl called Lotus. Siegel, after being submitted to an evening of Sterling’s short jokes and an attempt to pluck away Lotus, responds with nutpunch. 

The party boasts enough hashish to send Don on a hallucinatory trip that loses nothing for being the second big drug moment in three weeks. Chilling in an understated way, the scene has Don meeting visions of a hippified and pregnant Megan and PFC Dinkins, the G.I. he met and helped marry in Hawaii in the season premiere. “Dying doesn’t make you whole,” he tells Don, who wonders why the private is still missing his arm. “You should see what you look like.”

Don, you’ll remember from the season premiere, is hoping for a very different version of death, a peaceful and soothing afterlife that’s not unlike a trip to Hawaii, where the water and air are the same temperature as your body. Don does end up in some water as his hash bender comes to a conclusion in the pool. Roger has to make a rescue, and it’s all very funny when you remember Megan’s advice earlier in the show: “Go for a swim. It always makes you feel better.”

Meanwhile, back in New York, Avon’s new head of marketing has come calling on Joan, thanks to a connection made by her friend Kate.  Joan is suddenly in the position of “account man.” It’s a new thing and early returns are not good.

Perhaps initiating an era of empty ad agency positionings, Joan delivers some truly lame marketing fluff on the Avon marketer about how the shop is all about “listening to clients.” She later steps all over Peggy’s lines and pushes Pete Campbell out of the new business process in a direct contradiction of Chaough’s orders to follow agency protocol. It’s a bad moment for Joan, mitigated only by the facts that a. she’s likely brought in a big budget from a client who doesn’t know what she’s doing and b. Peggy was there to help bail her out.

The episode does a nice job of keeping the Joan-Peggy relationship complex. The women begin united in the goal to bring in the big new account, veer off course when Joan tries to take over, and end the episode as allies. Per usual, Peggy emerges as the show’s most interesting and likeable character, capable of doing the corporate politics without ever losing her soul.

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The Avon marketer’s explanation for the agency search is “flat sales.” But moving lipstick and perfume wasn’t a problem for the cosmetics company back in the late 1960s. In fact, Avon was regarded as a Wall Street darling and a fast-grower. It reported flat year-over-year earnings in July 1968 due to an income tax surcharge, not flagging demand.

Marketing changes were in the air, though. For more than a decade, longtime agency Dreher Advertising had been taking the brand into TV, announcing it with a memorable ringing doorbell cue. In 1967, the much-loved slogan “Ding Dong Avon Calling” went away, and with the early 1970s came a focus on consumers who lived in high-rise buildings -- hard for the company’s force of door-to-door salespeople to visit.

Here are a few Avon ads from the 1960s:

Another brand discussed in last night’s episode is Carnation. As depicted, the company’s marketing leadership is concerned about Draper & Co. handling its Instant Breakfast business when it already works on Life cereal. In real life, back in 1968, Carnation was capitalizing on Instant Breakfast’s popularity with dieters. They rolled out lower-calorie version and called it Slender.

In 1970, Carnation got beat up by the FTC for making false nutritional claims, specifically saying that Instant Breakfast had all the health benefits of two fresh eggs, two pieces of bacon, two slices of toast and a glass of orange juice. That would be quite a little. packet of powder.

The book-on-record that enigmatic, eager-beaver account man Bob Benson is listening to is “How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success In Selling” written by Frank Bettger and published in 1947. Bettger was a former baseball player who was going nowhere hawking life insurance until he made what would be a profitable discovery: he needed to inject some enthusiasm into his lifeless presentations. That became a book that, with Dale Carnegie’s endorsement, became a classic self-help sales manual. Its average rating on Amazon?  Five stars. Can you afford not to buy it?

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