Mad Ave Racism Pushes Creative to Extremes in 'Mad Man'

Jim Glover's Novel Has Basis in Sad Reality

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With all the trappings of a suspense thriller, Jim Glover's Mad Man allows readers to walk in the shoes of the main character, Randall Joseph, a brilliant black creative director who has come to the end of his rope after being bamboozled and ostracized by peers and colleagues in the advertising business.

Glover's James Pattersonish short, cliffhanger chapters are the perfect pace for keeping up with the unraveling Joseph. Glover also does a nice job with character development -- I began to care about Joseph, who becomes disenchanted with the ad business and self-destructive by getting his revenge --using extortion and murder -- from those who used and mistreated him. I was frustrated with him, angry with him, came to understand his pain and madness, and couldn't wait to see what happened next.

Importantly, Glover provides real insights into the not-so-fictional frustrations and sensitivities of black ad people and their reactions to the attitudes, beliefs and practices of Madison Avenue corporate ad execs and their often (mis)perceptions about people of color. (Glover opens with the suicide death of fictional character Kevin Townsend, which mirrors the real life story of an actual disillusioned and frustrated ad exec who jumped to his death from his high rise condo some years ago.)

Glover uses Joseph and his victims' conversations to expose some very real and raw feelings about the ad business workplace environment. In one scene we hear Joseph, with gun in hand, complaining about exclusion, hierarchy, lack of access, and stolen ideas, while his frustrated victim points to black execs who embrace victimization and therefore are viewed as whiners and ungrateful.

What was particularly interesting are the ideas raised in the Afterword.

Glover lays out the credentials of brilliant black ad execs like Harry Webber, who created "national campaigns that became household words" ("I am stuck on Band Aid"), or Carol H. Williams, who animated the Pillsbury Dough Boy and created the "Strong Enough For a Man, but Made for a Woman" campaign for Secret Deodorant. He also questions why, despite claims of a "level playing field," there are no African Americans heading mainstream agencies in 2011 America?

This and other documented facts below, brought to light by the Madison Avenue Project underscore the realities of African-American ad execs frustration:

  • African-Americans are under-hired in the advertising industry; African-Americans should be 9.6% of the managers and professionals (based on national demographic data), but in 2008, only 5.3% of managers and professionals were African-American

  • About 16% of large advertising firms employ no Black managers or professionals, a rate 60% higher than in the overall labor market

  • About African-American employees are under-utilized in the advertising industry. Blacks are only 62% as likely as their White counterparts to work in the powerful "creative" and "client contact" functions in agencies

  • African-American advertising employees are underpaid in the advertising industry. Black managers and professionals are only one-tenth as likely as their White counterparts to earn $100,000 a year

  • African-Americans are often excluded from "general market" agencies and find work only in agencies specializing in "ethnic markets"
Glover has shown though fiction, the feelings of people who have been left out of the general-market world of advertising. Glover's protagonist, Joseph, makes us stop and wonder what would happen if all the grievances that black ad professionals have were ever truly brought to public attention? He reminds us that the possible result of "enough is enough" is never more eminent than it is today, as our industry still, after all these years, hasn't solved its problems with the time-worn concept of simple equal rights.
Pepper Miller is the founder and president of The Hunter-Miller Group, Chicago. In September 2005, Pepper and co-author Herb Kemp launched the landmark African-American marketing book, What's Black About It? Insights to Increase Your Share of a Changing African-American Market
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