shu and joe

Mad Women

Published on December 3, 2008

I’m not a fan of the AMC TV series Mad Men, and here’s why: it portrays women in advertising as feebleminded coffee-brewers whose idea of advancement is sleeping with a powerful exec. The stereotype is, no doubt, couched in an appeal to period authenticity (the show is set in the world of 1960s New York), but how authentic is this portrayal?

The Dec/Jan issue of Bust magazine features an illuminating article on the women who out-Drapered the Don Drapers of Madison Avenue and rose to the top of the ad business – so much so that by 1969 the highest paid ad executive in the US was a women, Mary Wells Lawrence (who, btw, developed the I [heart] NY campaign for which Milton Glaser often seems to get all the credit). Yet this minor narrative of women in powerful positions is conveniently absent from today’s TV drama, which, sadly, stands in for historical fact and, I fear, shapes the way that advertising is viewed – both internally and externally. Case in point: the Nov 23 Times Magazine featured a piece titled “Multiscreen Mad Men,” a roundtable discussion with three of the leading men in digital advertising. Two points I’d like to make about the piece: 1) Would it have been difficult for the Times to find female exec in advertising to sit in on the panel? If you answered “yes,” I’ve got a few names I could throw your way. 2) A quote from the piece: “It used to be really easy for us to advertise anything because consumers had no idea what they were buying. We could basically sell them whatever we wanted. But the Internet has made everything so transparent.” I can’t be the only person surprised by the frank arrogance of that statement. It seems almost like a lament – nostalgia for days of yore. Or perhaps Lars has just been watching too much Mad Men.

Note: Unfortunately, the Bust article (“Man Women” by Erin DeJesus) is not available online.

Filed under: Advertising, Everyday Life
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