Industry Needs to Let Go of Its 'Mad Men' Fantasies

An Ad Age Editorial

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The media should let the ad industry's so-called golden era die in peace. And ad-industry elders should quit encouraging the "Those were the days" stories that have cropped up every week in the wake of AMC's "Mad Men."

What such men long for (and, yes, they're all men) are the good old days when men were men, great personalities ran the industry and the work was pure genius. Asked what happened to the great personalities, many old-timers (and quite a few newcomers) blame holding companies, bean counters, boring clients and low pay (the most laughable of any of these claims).

What really happened was this: The world became complex. For one, women fought their way out of the typing pool. Once women moved in, admen had to at least pretend to act like civilized human beings rather than frat boys with expense accounts. That said, the agency world hasn't progressed as far as it would like us to believe. You probably don't have to look all that hard to discover a young woman in the current ad-agency world who's done her time in a modern-day boys' club. (And you'd still have to look pretty hard to find more than a handful of black men in the upper reaches of general-market agencies.)

Those admen whining about the loss of the good old days should understand they sound like they're bemoaning the integration of public schools and country clubs.

And the business itself has become more complex. In a way, the old guard seems like a high-school quarterback who, having washed out before making it to the pros, won't shut up about the big game. Who can blame them? Back then, that creative quarterback had only to hit one receiver who ran a couple of routes -- TV and print. Contrary to fuzzy memories, there were just as many fumbles and interceptions back then as there are today.

The difference is, now you need two quarterbacks, three wideouts, a tight end, a back who can catch and a herd of coaches on the sideline. And the playbook had better be as thick as "War and Peace." On top of that, the owner (and his accountants), the commissioner and the media are all keeping an eye on you.

In other words, men (and women), the stakes have been raised, and you're in the big leagues now. So quit your whining and start acting like pros.
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