“Mad Men” — AMC’s hit TV series set in the advertising world of mid-20th century New York — has had an enormous impact on pop culture.
It’s made the Tony Soprano-like character safe for network television. It has changed the way we watch and talk about television. It has even infiltrated our wardrobes (have you seen all the Megan Draper-worthy flares and jumpsuits on the runways this past season?) But, what effect, if any, has it had on the advertising industry itself?
“I don’t know if I should give ‘Mad Men’ sole credit for this, but one thing I’ve noticed is there seems to be a shift away from big egos of the Don Draper variety,” says Ari Halper, executive creative director at GREY. “People are much more transparent and collaborative and humane towards their co-workers and their clients. Of course, that could have to do with Gen Xers and Millennials taking charge, but I do think Don was held up as a mirror to some people in advertising, and they thought, ‘Oh, we do not want to be like that.’”
But it’s clear that even if no one wants to be like Don Draper, they do want to give presentations like him. “When I first started watching ‘Mad Men,’ I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve been to lots of business presentations but I’ve never seen one like that,’” says Jeff Lang, a freelance creative director based in New York. “I have to say, though, that since the show went on, I have seen more people stand and present, rather than sit and present.”
“It’s definitely inspired me in my work,” says Halper. “There’s that iconic scene where Don is giving this pitch for the Kodak carousel, and it’s a really emotional and powerful moment. But it also demonstrated that the most powerful thing you can do is show the client a product like they’ve never seen it before.
"I was working on a Canon pitch at the time, and after seeing that I just went in and was like, ‘No one cares about megapixels, they care about how they can capture photos that make them happy or create prints that make people go ‘Wow,’ and that signaled a massive shift in their advertising.”
But the legacy of “Mad Men” will be the curiosity it inspired about the ad business, says Steve Landsberg, who worked at several of the big firms name-checked on the show before founding his own agency, Grok.
“In the past few years, people are suddenly way more interested in what I do. “When I meet someone at a party and I say I work in advertising, the first thing they ask is, ‘Are you a Don Draper?’ Is it just like ‘Mad Men’?” he says. “It’s become a reference point.”