Mad Men

Newsweek Reviving Its 1960s Design for 'Mad Men' Issue, Down to the Ads

Effort Marks Season-Five Premiere of AMC Show

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The Dec. 27, 1965, issue of Newsweek
The Dec. 27, 1965, issue of Newsweek
The Jan. 6, 1964, Newsweek
The Jan. 6, 1964, Newsweek

Newsweek is planning an issue marking the return of "Mad Men" this March by adopting the magazine's 1960s design throughout -- all the way, it hopes, to the ads.

Tina Brown, editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, said she thought of the idea while talking with Matthew Weiner, creator and executive producer of "Mad Men," about ways to treat its season-five premiere on March 25, nearly a year and a half after season four concluded.

"Newsweek was very much on the cultural forefront at the time of the show," Ms. Brown said. "It covered the events that are so much of the background for the show's drama -- the burgeoning civil rights movement, the women's rights movement, the Vietnam War. That was Newsweek's cutting-edge beat and its flourishing journalistic subject. So it seemed like a wonderful marriage in a sense to take that and apply it to the magazine, to make the magazine an homage to the period."

The magazine experienced its own upheavals in those years as cultural norms shifted. "In that period women were not even allowed to write for the magazine," Ms. Brown said. "There was a whole 'Mad Men' culture at Newsweek. Women had to be the researchers and the copy backup to the sort of swaggering male writers. In the '70's, the women of Newsweek launched a class-action lawsuit to write and have bylines."

Things have changed on the ad side as well. The "Mad Men"-themed issue can't include one big category from the 1960's: tobacco advertising, which Newsweek no longer accepts. But Newsweek is trying to interest other marketers in either reviving their own ads' look from the time or, for newer brands, imagining how their ads would have looked in those days.

"We've challenged agencies and clients to do '60s-inspired creative, but for modern messages and products," said Rob Gregory, president at Newsweek Daily Beast.

"It's analogous to when the NFL has a game and the teams wear their vintage uniforms," he added. "It's a nod to retro style, but it's a live game and it counts."

A Marriott ad that ran in Newsweek during the 'Mad Men' era
A Marriott ad that ran in Newsweek during the 'Mad Men' era

Ad pages at Newsweek dropped 16.8% in 2011, but its fortunes seemed to improve after Ms. Brown's March 14 redesign. Ad pages in the first quarter were down 30.8% from the year-earlier period, then dropped 24.5% in the second quarter, 10% in the third and 3.6% in the fourth, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Newsweek said its December ad pages were up 15% from December 2010.

The "Mad Men"-themed issue, which will be dated March 19, will include a cover story on the series and a feature on the role of advertising in U.S. culture.

The design team is examining back issues for guidance. "From '64 to '69, Newsweek had this super-slick, dead-simple modern look to it," said Dirk Barnett, creative director at Newsweek Daily Beast. "The ads were in color. For the most part, everything else was in black and white with thin, red lines."

The look was similar to the design on "Mad Men" in a way, Mr. Barnett said. "When you watch 'Mad Men,' everything is so precise and tight," he said. "It's all about precision, really. That's what we want to infuse into this."

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