The history of advertising in quite a few objects 30 - First episode of Mad Men

Star of Mad Men, Don Draper
Star of Mad Men, Don Draper

Film-makers in the US have never shown much affection for the ad industry. Down the years, adfolk have usually been depicted as manipulative cynics who make people buy things they don't need.

In Picture Perfect, an agency executive proclaims: "I didn't lie, I sold." And in the 1990 film Crazy People, adman Dudley Moore is even more candid. "We lie for a living," he declares.

The roots of this animosity can be traced back to US travelling salesmen in the 19th century. Hollywood reflected the mistrust and the public, influenced by Vance Packard's expose of motivational research, was happy to go along.

On 19 July 2007, all that changed when the first episode of Mad Men was screened in the US. Set in the mythical Madison Avenue agency Sterling Cooper in the 60s, the show has never given the industry an easy ride. Agency chiefs cheat on their wives, behave ruthlessly and drink incessantly. Yet, at last, here was a series that had done its homework, set as it is against real events that changed advertising at that time.

The show's authenticity owes much to its consultants - Bob Levinson, a veteran creative whose career began at BBDO in the 60s, and Josh Weltman, an art director who produces the artwork in the show.

Levinson claims Mad Men is completely authentic. "The drinking was commonplace, the smoking was constant, the relationships between the executives and the secretaries are exactly right," he says.

However, not every industry old-timer is impressed. "We worked from 5.30am in the morning until 10pm at night," the art director George Lois remembers. "We didn't bed secretaries. It was hard, hard work and no-nonsense."

Nevertheless, many of today's US agency bosses say Mad Men has done a good job in raising the industry's profile. One claims that 30 per cent of his interns were inspired by the show. But he adds: "In some ways, they're disappointed when they realise it's not like that."


- The huge critical acclaim for Mad Men has resulted in the series scooping 13 Emmys and four Golden Globes.

- The star of the 1967 musical film How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying - which had advertising as one of its themes - won a Tony award for his performance. His name was Robert Morse, best known today as Mad Men's Bert Cooper.

- A Mad Men episode features Heineken as a client seeking to bring its beer to the US market.

The placement was paid for by the brewer as part of its adspend around the show.


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