I was having lunch recently with a gentleman who was asking me if I might consider being on the board of his organization. During the “getting to know each other” sequence he asked me about my career, and if things had changed dramatically since I entered the advertising agency industry in 1978. Then he asked if the advertising business was really like the show Mad Men.

Ahhh, Mad Men. What a series. Don Draper was the man.

My qualified answer was, yes, there were many parallels to the show and the advertising agency business in which I worked – at least way back then. It was fun, crazy, intense, fast, high stress, lots of travel, lots of dining, lots of smoking, and lots of drinking. Not necessarily in that order. Has the business changed? Dramatically. Computers and smart phones changed everything. But, in reflection, there are six things that I believe still hold true from the Mad Men days.

The “Mad Men” characters’ strongest relationships were often in the office, or with their clients, rather than in their personal lives, and many a deal was cemented over dinner and drinks – and I would add, on the golf course. Today’s technology of course, allows us to be connected from anywhere, but taking the time to get to know someone in person is still important – face-to-face meetings, lunches and dinners are valuable in strengthening relationships. It almost always pays off. The trust built among agency teams and with clients more often than not facilitates greater success for everyone.

Whether at Sterling Cooper Draper Price during the Mad Men days, or at 78Madison in 2022, chatter almost always revolves around how a particular advertising campaign will elevate a brand to success. Today of course, digital marketing is always touted as the answer to all that is wrong with the current state of branding. But the truth is, the advertising industry has been consistently driven by one thing: CREATIVITY – whether today or during the Mad Men era. Everyone, client and agency alike, want to be creative.

Remember when Don Draper pitched the Kodak Carousel account at the end of Season 1? “This is not a spaceship; it’s a time machine,” he said. “It goes backwards and forwards, and it takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” Don used photos of his own family and conveyed authentic emotion to bring home the message of nostalgia in one of the most memorable scenes of the season. Potent pitches are still important today. Whether it’s a new business meeting or sharing creative options with a long-time client – setting the scene, telling the story, and revealing the big idea are all essential elements of an effective presentation.

It’s in the work done for clients from Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo to Nectar Springs Naturally Infused Water, Tide Laundry Detergent, Chick Fil A, and thousands of other products around the world. Branding can be seen in each iteration of an advertising agency’s work – who can forget the turning point in Season 4 when Sterling Cooper Draper Price lost the Lucky Strike account and Don penned his “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” manifesto to change the conversation. And it’s the essence of Don Draper himself as he struggles to maintain his invented identity. Creating successful brands was essential to the show Mad Men, and it’s still essential in advertising today. The modern agency not only helps create a logo, voice, messaging, brand standards and ad campaigns for each client, but it creates an emotional connection with each audience, as well.

How many episodes did we see Peggy Olson at the office on a Saturday? Some of us never stop working. When you’re immersed in a campaign, it can be difficult to stop generating and refining ideas, no matter where you are. Late nights and early mornings are part of the deal in the advertising industry. Maybe more so in the Mad Men days, but still in play today. And sometimes, like Don Draper sitting in a darkened movie theater, we really do get our best ideas when we’re away from the office.

OK, this one isn’t completely accurate. Today’s advertising agencies are likely not indulging in three-martini lunches or breaking out the whiskey at 11 a.m. as in the Mad Men days. But most do have a beer fridge and bar in their office. Sometimes you just want a little something to get the creative juices flowing or celebrate a successful day.

Indeed, much has changed, but much remains the same as well. No matter what period of time, advertising has always been about taking an idea and communicating it in a simple but universal way. It’s about letting the story carry people to the idea, not to overtly explain it.

Joe Bouch
CEO, 78Madison

78Madison is a Central Florida based advertising agency – marketing communications firm – located in Orlando/Winter Springs Florida. Let’s start a conversation. Let’s do something original.

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