Critic Wishes 'Mad Men' Were Thunderdome of Advertising's Heroes


We think it's perfectly fine for someone working in the advertising industry to dislike the AMC series Mad Men and to share that opinion with the industry at large. But, when the second sentence of that opinion reads, "I got through about 10 minutes of it before I changed the channel, trying not to squint as I yawned so I could see what was on the latest episode of Dirty Jobs," the next five paragraphs, which contain blatherings about how the show should be more realistic to industry's "magical" era, become baseless.

For someone to write a review of a television show, which has been on the air for at least 12 weeks, after only having watched the first ten minutes of the premiere episode is half-witted at best and most assuredly irresponsible journalism. McKee Wallwork Cleveland Partner and Creative Director Bart Cleveland is the half-wit who brings us wacky commentary such as, "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." Mad Max? Oh yea. That'd be an accurate portrayal of what we do.

Cleveland wishes the show (or the ten minutes of it he watched) did a better job explaining to the general public what advertisers do every day. He writes, "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." An art form? Come on! Sure, advertising is creative but it's sole purpose is to sell shit, not get hung in an art museum. We can't even get the public to think of us an anything more than car salesmen and Cleveland thinks we can even remotely get the public to consider what we do art? Go punch your traffic manger, Bart. You've got some issues to work out.

George Parker didn't like Mad Men either but at least he's watching the show and has earned the right to dislike it. For Cleveland to use ten minutes viewing time to launch into a misty-eyed piece on how the "heroes in our industry...didn't just sell toilet paper and cake mix, but changed culture," is laughable. No one in advertising, no matter who they are or were, has been or will ever be seen by the public as a hero or cultural mover. As much as we and Advertising Week may hope for, we simply aren't heroic in the eyes of the average person.

Advertisers sell shit. Doctors who invent penicillin are heroes. Kids who survive cancer are heroes. Soldiers who defend out freedom are heroes. Firefighters who run into burning buildings to save people are heroes. Those who create advertising are not heroes. Icons? Yes. There are many icons in the advertising business and they certainly deserve their rightful place in our industry's history books. But they aren't heroes to Joe Sixpack.

The purpose of any successful television show is to create entertainment that the vast majority of the public will enjoy watching. Shows that focus on a particular practice can never properly represent the industry upon which they center themselves. Doctors chuckle at ER. Lawyers laugh at Boston Legal. Police officers wish their offices were as cool as those on CSI:Miami. We laugh at Mad Men because it's not a razor sharp portrayal of what we do. But, we also sit transfixed each week watching for one simple reason: it's good TV and we want to know what the hell happened to Don Draper that made him leave his family. If you watched it for more than ten minutes, Bart, you might actually like it.

by Steve Hall    Oct-12-07   Click to Comment   
Topic: Cable, Opinion, Strange   

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My best quote from a guy I used to work with when we'd get stressed out: "We're not curing cancer."

I agree, we make ads and websites and stuff to help sell people stuff they don't really need. It's a fun job! Incredibly fun, but I don't see how "Where's the beef?!" has improved the planet. We're not heroes by any stretch.

Posted by: Sean on October 12, 2007 12:11 PM

I love this show like a bad habit. We ad grunts may be a lot of things, but I doubt there are many Mad Max types among us. The ad game has been appealing as a backdrop for shows from Bewitched to Who's The Boss. It is something that is interesting to think about as a career, if it isn't already your own. Just like lawyers and doctors.

Posted by: a beer sort of girl on October 12, 2007 12:27 PM

the show is great. and it is very accurate to what the business world use to be like. Ask anyone who worked in an agency back then and they'll tell you it was just like that.

Cleveland is an idiot. Agencies weren't about great work back then. DDB had just introduced the radical VW ads, the creative revolution won't take place for several more years.

Posted by: Mad Man on October 12, 2007 12:32 PM

The show is great, though I have to admit I have never watched it with commercials or at the appointed time. It's much better using ON DEMAND.

My wife, the attorney, thinks it is the biggest bore ever and can't stand Don Drapers wife.

Around here we like to say there is no such thing as an internet emergency.

Posted by: MDAinc on October 12, 2007 12:40 PM

Do you really think they care what a bunch of nerdy ad people think? If that was their only target, the show would be pulled.

Posted by: Mason on October 12, 2007 12:42 PM

I must admit I approached Mad Men somewhat cautiously because of the subject and I don't really watch any network TV on a a regular basis anyway. Now I do.

Yes, I am hooked on Mad Men. That and the Dog Whisperer are the only shows I will actually make time to watch, and only Mad Men is a "must not miss" for me.

BUT, it is so over-the-top! I have been in the ad business for 35 years, and we really aren't/weren't that bad.


Posted by: Charlie Xray on October 12, 2007 12:44 PM

Advertising has plenty of cultural relevance, but art? It's a footnote on the page. I think people working in fiction, poetry, etc. are the primary text-- advertisers are often the goofy court jester. Always welcome, but hardly the main event.

The "Attention Deficit Theater" summaries of Mad Men are pretty hilarious if you watch the show.

Posted by: E.R. on October 12, 2007 1:07 PM

The subtext of the show seems to be the consumption of cigarettes, alcohol and prescription drugs. A way to embed advertising for such products without being explicit. Not sure if that makes sense, or others see this as well... to look at TV shows themselves as advertising vehicles. What did the Sopranos sell? Cadillac SUVs? Glocks? Does this show demonstrate the means that advertisers might be using now to deliver a message to watchers in the absence of 30 second spots?

Posted by: komra Moriko on October 12, 2007 1:12 PM

a) Why DOES he want to leave his wife? She, having done the Maytag vibrator, is up to her ass in therapy he got her into. We have no inkling if she is more frigidaire than toaster. (I did miss an episode because I was catching up with Smallville, so I could have missed something. He did seem upset that his boss appeared to make some kind of pass and he didn't really like the idea of a door-to-door air conditioner salesman getting access to his home. In 1960, we had postmen, milk men, bakery men, soda men, junk men, ice cream men, knife sharpener men, Albo men, gas men, water men---BUT NEVER an air conditioner salesman.)
b) It is a fun show to watch, if only to see how a period piece is done on the cheap at Silvercup, the former bakery("A cup of Fresh Whole Milk in every Loaf")now sound stages. Where was the Korea location? Bear Mountain?
c) Hadn't seen a plot-line of switched dog tags 'tween enlisted man and officer since Holden did it in Bridge on the River Kwai.
d) Is cowardice the motif of Draper? The Bendel woman identifies that in this last episode, but detachment has seemed to be guiding principle. Neither cowardice nor bravery. Speaking of Korea, how come the Draper family never looked for their scion?
e) If I were a wheat farmer, I would have gone to see the movie "Our Daily Bread" even if I knew it just trying to make Stalin look good. So having punched a clock in the ad business for a long time, the show is interesting to watch even if just fodder for George Parker to do his fun-to-read rants about.

Posted by: Tom Messner on October 12, 2007 1:18 PM

It's also interesting to note that David Ogilvy (I presume one of the ad heroes to whom he refers) said "I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information." Hmmmm

Posted by: Mick on October 12, 2007 1:31 PM

Mad Men...Great show! This show is a reflection of life in the times , amplified for drama. The 3-4 Martini lunch was common in San Francisco, God knows what happened in NY. Guys cheated drank heavily and drove home, without seat belts. Wives were support, dinner, sex, children, chores and the veneer of respectability without little decision making authority. Women on the side were the best thing to a good hunt'n dog...and there were plently, looking for love in all the wrong places.
There was extreme prejudice, overt office sexism and "Sexual harassment" was a Red Badge of Courage, something to brag about, nothing near a negative term.
The show is a parody much like "Best of Show" or "Wild Hogs", both over the top examples of their specific cultures with lots of smoke and visible fire.

Posted by: John on October 12, 2007 1:46 PM

I think Cleveland is just odd to think someone would actually watch a show about advertising.

Posted by: Catharine P. Taylor on October 12, 2007 2:11 PM

I totally agree. I actually had to watch several episodes before forming an opinion. At first, my feelings were mixed. But after getting into it, I really enjoyed it. Now, it's the only show I look forward to on a weekly basis.

Posted by: Susanna K. Hutcheson on October 12, 2007 2:17 PM

Now in its 7th season, it is about how to prepare for work on a great metropolitan newspaper.
With these days of 1000 channels, you can find someone to watch a show about an emergency room at a hospital instead of in the golden days of broadcasting where a talking horse and a talking car were needed to attract audience.

Posted by: Tom Messner on October 12, 2007 4:53 PM

But at least watching a show about an emergency room has some drama. Cleveland makes it sound as thought it would be interesting to watch some guy typing endless iterations of a headline into his computer. Watching ad folk, um, "procrastinate" is ever more entertaining.

Posted by: Catharine P. Taylor on October 12, 2007 5:21 PM

The remarkable thing about MAD M is the lack of discussion about the surreptitious products placed in the TV show.
The audience is supposed to think the product 'just happens to be there'. Does the TV/film producer receives substantial amounts of money through off-shore accounts to ensure the 'product' is in plain site in as many scenes as possible? Is the 'prop house' also paid substantial amounts of money for their successful placement of the product in the public eye with a wink and a smile.

Make no mistake about it, Mad Men is the single most successful tobacco TV thing in decades! Period. Only those that profess extraordinary FAITH in things unseen, such as Santa Claus and fair elections can deny the obvious tool this show was/is and always shall be, so help me Philip Morris.
Is this show more evil than kiddie porn? That is the real question. ;P

Posted by: adarogance on October 12, 2007 5:33 PM

I guess I should read the guy's comments instead of making poor jokes. The realism/naturalism that was brought to police work and doctoring is possible for advertising, but only in the hands of a genius for that sort of thing. Like Milch maybe. The Jack Dillon book, The Advertising Man, may be a source that could be shot and, if produced well, yield something that makes the Cleveland fella happy and you, too. They renewed Mad Men. So Kennedy will "get the country moving again" by reducing the top tax rate from 91 to 70 and sending some more advisors into Laos, Vietnam, and Cuba. Draper's boss--is he patterned after Peter Geer at all?--will sell his agency to Marion Harper and Bendel's will continue on its way to oblivion and adarogance will get annoyed as a guy has a third heart attack eating a pastrami sandwich and dragging on a non-filter Luckies...brought to us couresy of the pastrami council and the tobacco board.
Cigarettes got their big break in Good Night and Good Luck, a film so accurate in its details that the old CBS building which had 24 floors also had, in the movie's elevator, 24 floors. Mad Men should only have something close to that attention to detail.

Posted by: TOM MESSNER on October 12, 2007 6:48 PM

The best new show this season. People, realize it's trying to capture a time and not to describe your lives today. I love the depiction of psychotherapy as it was, housewivery as it was, the relationships between wives and husbands, parents and kids, bosses and secretaries, among men who work together -- but all of these are depicted as it was during that time, with a few funny memory-inducing product placements! Any show that asks the beautiful starlets to GAIN weight and stop exercising in order to look sexy is also all right by me!

Posted by: Sharon Lamb on October 12, 2007 7:45 PM

"Lawyers laugh at Boston Legal...."

to be fair, everyone laughs at Boston Legal. Come on, its got Shatner.

Posted by: Chuck on October 12, 2007 8:01 PM

I don't know about the state of psycotherapy in the 50s, but by the time I got to DDB in 1969 "everybody" seemed to be going to "my group" or a "my shrink."
From what I gathered, psychotherapists were much more active in directing people toward an end, rather than following the couch and chair potato routine.

Posted by: TOM MESSNER on October 12, 2007 11:52 PM

Steve Hall,

You sound like it's the first time you've ever read a Bart Cleveland perspective. His work is typically half-witted. And oftentimes less than half.

Posted by: Just saying on October 13, 2007 1:55 AM

The best new show this season. People, realize it's trying to capture a time and not to describe your lives today. I love the depiction of psychotherapy as it was, housewivery as it was, the relationships between wives and husbands, parents and kids, bosses and secretaries, among men who work together -- but all of these are depicted as it was during that time, with a few funny memory-inducing product placements! Any show that asks the beautiful starlets to GAIN weight and stop exercising in order to look sexy is also all right by me!

Posted by: Sharon Lamb on October 13, 2007 9:52 AM

Indeed, Just Saying. I rarely bother with half wits but this one slapped me in the face and I couldn't ignore it.

Posted by: Steve Hall on October 13, 2007 11:47 AM

can we have an advertising theme-based show for *this* century? you know, one where the female marketing comm. director at some large behomoth corporation (that shall remain nameless) sleeps with her underlings while her husband is a stay at home dad?

just sayin..

Posted by: kate on October 13, 2007 6:29 PM

While I was unimpressed with the first episode, I've found myself getting more addicted. Probably, as someone said, to find out why Don Draper left his family.

The period settings are fascinating and the plot has a Dynasty/Knots Landing quality to it: lots and lots of bed-hopping and over-the-top story lines, but it's all well-done and is definitely better than most of what's on TV.

Also agree that it's much more pleasurable to watch the commercial-free, HD (and free, FWIW) version via On Demand.

As for Bart Cleveland: I suspect he's selling himself with that article. As in *I* care so much about the business and about making art and I'll be that passionate about your business if you hire me.

Different tack from the usual creative superstars who are quick to tell you how much they "hate advertising." As in "Even though I hate advertising, I'm so much better at it than all you suckers who really like it. Isn't that a kick?" Kinda like Michael Jordan telling us he really hates basketball, you know?

Posted by: Tangerine Toad on October 14, 2007 5:05 PM

All these comments and not one Mad Max reference. I'm wondering if I'm dating myself here, but at 33 I'm not that old. How fantastic would it be if our world operated like Bartertown, Tina Turner served as our "Auntie" and we had our own Thunderdome? "Two men enter. One man leaves." What a great way for clients to have their agencies do pitches or for agencies themselves to hire new staff. I'm giddy just thinking about it.

Given the stuff that makes it onto television this concept may have legs. Of course it would have to be on Spike, but it's a start.


Master Blaster

Posted by: MSGiro on October 15, 2007 10:30 AM

The only problem I see in Mad Men is they tend to focus more on the personal lives in devilish details and very less on the actual advertising process. Let's see what season two has...that is, if there is a season two.

Posted by: New York Punk on October 15, 2007 3:07 PM

There will be a season two. It'd been picked up by AMC for another season. Punk. Be reasonable. If the show focused on the actual advertising process, who do you think would watch? Yes, us but even if every single person that worked in the ad industry watched, that would not be enough to sustain the show. The show has to go beyond the process of creating ads in order for it to have a broad enough appeal to be of interest to an audience outside the industry.

Posted by: Steve Hall on October 15, 2007 5:09 PM

Not true, people would love looking at various logos, making them larger, shifting them to the right....advertising is very glamorous to most.

Posted by: kate on October 16, 2007 1:02 AM

Hated it. And that’s not comparing it on the basis of what advertising is like today. It’s on the basis of comparing it to shows that aren’t as narcissistic, humorless and miserable as Thirtysomething was.

But hey, they got the “everyone smoked back then” thing down.

Posted by: bg on October 20, 2007 10:11 PM