The show is about a New York ad agency in the early days of the golden era of advertising. Unfortunately it has little to do with either advertising or its golden era. I was really expecting more. I wanted to be inspired by that magical time in our industry. I wanted to enjoy seeing an industry change the way marketers talked to their customers. Instead I heard a lot of frustrated housewives gossip about one another between scenes of our hero creative director lecturing a client on how stupid he was about how ads work. So, my young co-workers who think this is fresh TV look at me strangely, as if I were their parent, when I say the show is dull and the picture of advertising it portrays is no more accurate than Darrin Stephens was on Bewitched.
I realize that I'm probably being unfair to "Mad Men" because I haven't really watched that much of it, but it was pretty obvious to me that it wasn't going to be about advertising's creative birth.
What I really wanted it to be more like was Mad Max. I wanted the hero to be a little off his rocker about doing great work. I wanted to see him threaten to jump out a window to sell a bagel ad. I wanted to see a passion for creative that causes men to live like monks, not adulterous lechers making passes at their secretaries. I wanted everyone watching to see why we do what we do, why we endure pain and suffering for the sake of doing an ad that gets remembered. Why did I want the show to be about advertising? Because advertising is something that deserves to be shown for what it is -- an art form.
I'm sure the comments will come rolling in from those who disagree, but like it or not, what we do requires artistic expression. It requires someone to get really excited about making an ad for hand soap. Artists express themselves because they want to move people emotionally. When the artistry of what we do is exercised, you end up with campaigns like Dove, work that connects with an audience in a real and emotional way. Advertising as an industry only moves forward when we have frequent examples of campaigns like Dove. Those examples inspire us all to do better work.
Mad Men should have been about the real heroes in our industry: Those who didn't just sell toilet paper and cake mix, but changed culture. Those who didn't know they would be our heroes by simply doing their best. Those who believed in what they were doing without thinking too much of themselves. It would have been nice if Mad Men had shown the world of our heroes. Then, maybe everyone would realize we're not really crazy, but crazy in love with what we do. And just maybe, we would have been reminded why we must strive to do even better than our heroes did.