'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner Talks to Adrants
During this week's Television Critic's Association Press Tour held at the Beverly Hilton, MarKyr Media Co-Founder Marjorie Kase interviewed Mad Men Creator Matthew Weiner for Adrants. Mad Men, a show about advertising that's set in the early sixties, debuts its second season this Sunday, July 27, on AMC at 10PM.
MK: How has the Ad game evolved since the early days of Mad Men?
MW: I think the biggest difference is all of the conglomerates in advertising. They take the competition out of the market place. The ads themselves, I don't think are particularly bad or anything. There are still great ads being made with amazing amount of talent in advertising. I meet them and I see their work and I'm impressed and I'm amused and I enjoy it.
MK: Aside from all the sexism, drinking and smoking, how has the industry office culture changed?
MW: Well I don't think that's changed. I think that when you go to an advertising convention, the drinking is still there, and all the smoking is happening out in front of the building. I think people still go to strip clubs. There was a joke about Peggy last year that made Pete punch a guy in the face that was "She's like a lobster, all the meat's in the tail". That's from the New York Stock Exchange last year, that's not historical research; I was worried that would sound too contemporary.
MK: Yeah, I guess junk in the trunk wouldn't really fly. (Laughter), Would Don Draper survive the transition into Web 2.0?
MW: I think Don's philosophy of advertising would make him able to function anywhere. He's into storytelling. He's into being personal. He's into hand-to-hand research. He doesn't work with products that are not interesting to him.
MK: What's been your favorite ad campaign on the show so far?
MW: I think the Carousel Pitch. That pitch was so good because we knew it was his real family. I just love that at the end of it, he [a different character, actually] says "Good luck on your next meeting."
MK: What is your creative process like?
MW: To me, it is about finding something that's thematically related to it and yet, not hitting you over the head. I have advertising consultants. I've been told by them, that I'm pretty good at that aspect, but of course I'm working backwards. I The thing that I learned right away, and knew it from reading the books, was that it's not about the slogan. It's about the legs and the idea. I try to construct things so if there is an "aha" moment that it is believable. It's not just a bunch of people ripping on the slogan.
MK: Where do you find inspiration?
MW: My inspiration is from all over the place. I love a lot of the 70s stuff. I love All That Jazz. I love The Deer Hunter. I love Apocalypse Now. The Lives of Others - I have just complete admiration for the way the story was told. I came into the room on the first day and I told the story of Moses, and I was like, "This is the ultimate story." He's raised by strangers and he goes away and he comes back. He's got his brother and he's talking to God and people think he's crazy. Every aspect of those kinds of stories is what I like. I'm inspired a lot by literature, I always go back to my John Cheever, I love John O'Hara, I love Joseph Heller, I'm kind of sponge-like in that way. I watch more Sponge Bob and the Simpsons than anybody you know and it's all over the show.
MK: Was there a particular ad campaign that inspired you growing up? Do you have any favorites in general?
MW: I grew up in a golden age of advertising. TV was how we got our advertising, but just living through "That's a spicy meatball." and "I can't believe I ate the whole thing." and "Two all beef patties", I can name all these things and everybody can. The fact that they're in your brain, it's not because they are songs. They are hilarious, "Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz," you know, whatever. I'm like anybody else. I love great ads. To me, the perfect ad campaign is "Does she or doesn't she?" The Volkswagen ad campaigns were totally inspiring. They literally look like they were done yesterday.
MK: What aspects of the show are you most proud of?
MW: I'm proud of things on the show that have a verisimilitude to the creative process, like the "Relaxisizer," the weight loss belt, starts off, it's called the "PER, the Personal Exerciser Regime," then it's called the "Electrosizer," then it's called "The Rejuvenator," then it's called the Relaxisizer. You get to see every stage. The Relaxisizer was a dog that had been kicked over to them because they had a conflict on tires. It tells us something about the business, which some people are interested in. I want to show that the process is there and that good ideas can come from anywhere. Look at Pete, Pete's had some of the best ideas, he's been ignored, but he's had great ideas.
MK: Pete's death wish pitch for the Lucky Strike campaign - that was one of my favorite moments.
MW: That was from the pilot, and he's totally right.
MK: Do you have to ask permission before mentioning a product onscreen?
MW: We have a very very aggressive clearance policy. So, we get permission if we want to show the image, but we talk about stuff all the time and no one can do anything about it. You can say "brand X causes cancer" any time you want to. The toughest thing was the cigarette thing in the pilot. I said I wanted to use real brands and it became a very complex issue. They have the legacy thing, which keeps them from appearing on TV but in that dramatic context, in the satirical context, that's freedom of speech.
MK: Speaking of cancer, have you received a lot of complaints about the amount of smoking characters do onscreen?
MW: I do and I'm kind of disturbed by the fact that people do not have problems with child murderers and people eating each other's entrails and yet they're still so disturbed by the smoking, which is destructive, a personal habit and shouldn't be encouraged. To tell the story without it is ridiculous. I grew up in this world in 1985. People can pretend like it didn't exist and they can be disgusted by it, repulsed by it. Why don't we do a movie about the Civil War, but not mention slavery.
MK: Are you satisfied in the way that the show is being marketed? Do you have a hand in it?
MW: I sort of have a policy of letting people who know how to do their job better than me do it. These people have done an amazing job. I have an opinion, I like to be consulted, I'm a control freak, but I'm very happy with the way it's being marketed. I think they embraced the idea right away. I feel that the show should be treated as if it's a premium experience for educated people or people who are going to take the patience to be entertained. The great thing is, so far it's not about snob appeal. The demographics are all over the place. There are teenagers who watch it, there are old people who watch it, and there are a lot of men in their 30's. They like the story and they like Don, and it's related to their life.
Marjorie Kase is a partner at MarKyr Media, an Online Reputation Management and Social Media Consulting Firm based in Los Angeles. She is also a member of the Television Critics Association.