When I was in college trying to decide what career path to take, ABC’s TV series “ThirtySomething” pointed the way. Barely in my twenties, I wasn’t thinking much about the importance of family and friends — even if subconsciously it made an impression. But when Michael and Elliot left for work and walked into that agency, something about it excited me. The rest of my career story is history; I’ve been an ad man ever since.
That was the last time advertising as an occupation was successfully portrayed to the masses on the small screen. Then along came “Mad Men”. There once was a time when mindless, “getting to know you” chit-chat started with talking about the weather. Nowadays when someone finds out what I do for a living, I hear “do you watch ‘Mad Men?’”
Of course, I watch it. Before I got wrapped up in the seedy storyline, I hung in there waiting for the 5-10 minutes of the show that they actually talked advertising. I was once proud that it was so successful because I thought it was showcasing my profession. Apparently what it showcases is how terrible the men in this profession actually were as human beings. People actually ask me if I drink all day, have long lunches and nudge me, making reference to how much strange I probably get on the side. Yes, I am a CD, but that does not make me Don Draper.
I long for the days when people didn’t know much about what I actually do. Until “Mad Men”, my mom actually thought I sat around drawing all day. Now my mom thinks I’m a raging alcoholic with no scruples. “Mad Men” may get me cut out of her will, for God’s sake. A lack of ethics would propel “ThirtySomething’s” Michael into periods of self-reflection and depression. Don Draper and crew thrive on having no morals. Now, instead of asking or caring what I do, people believe a TV show that takes place before I was even born.
Now, back to those 5-10 minutes of the show where they actually talk advertising. Pitching ideas is a big part of my job, so I love whenever they pitch the Kodaks and Hiltons of the world. But, how those ads come about is another trivialization of what advertising is all about: strategy. We don’t just toss around random, hokie tag lines that would appeal to all men age 25-40. There has to be a reason behind every big idea – a USP that drives every thought. Michael and Elliott sat in that office shooting Nerf hoops for hours on end, discussing the dramatizing of a clients’ differentiation and how to make it so dramatic it would stick in your cerebral cortex and never leak out.
Don’t get me wrong, as a professional, “Mad Men” does inspire me in one ironically, unrealistic Hollywood kind of way. I admire the swagger in their step and the conviction for their talent. The amount of moxie oozing from these ad men allows them to gladly dismiss any client that doesn’t believe in the strength of their ideas. Something I, Elliott, Michael and all ad men throughout time wish they could afford to do. I’ve done it only a few times but I’ve done it nicely without a cigarette and a glass of scotch in hand. I’ve allowed clients to beat me down and disrespect my talent more times than I care to mention. Why?…because of the things that really matter: my career, my family and a personal belief that I am good at what I do. Michael and Elliott were good men. They knew that their jobs wouldn’t love them back. Only friends and family will.
Until the next advertising drama comes to TV, “Mad Men” is the label for all CD’s regardless of the people we really are. “ThirtySomething” defined the ad man I would become. “Mad Men” defined the ad man people think I am.