Even 8 years since the show debuted, Mad Men is still a familiar point of reference for many people in my personal and professional life. Just today after a new business pitch the prospect said: “I really like your black pitch boards — makes me think of Mad Men (I wish we had some scotch).” The show has always been an icebreaker. It’s a refreshing change from small talk about the weather when speaking with an ad man. But now that the series end is near, I wonder how long the references will live beyond the show.
Before Mad Men, no one really knew how to relate to an ad man. No one knew how to carry on a business conversation at a dinner party or networking function with an ad man. No one even knew what the hell an ad man was. Funny thing is, an ad man today is NOT Don Draper. But should I care? At least I’m something interesting. I’m a pitch man who can sell ice to an eskimo. I sell every board room full of decision makers with the swift, emotional swag of the Kodak Carousel pitch (“The Wheel”). Then, once victorious, I head out to celebrate in a sea of booze and infidelity.
How is it that so many people could think that an ad man today is anything like one from the sixties? Because they have no other frame of reference. It was an era marked by the dominance of the creative executive, embodied by Draper; the formation of mergers; the rise of television and the advent of innovative technologies like the copy machine and those big ass computers. Fifty years later, little of this continues to resonate. And while Don Draper wouldn’t recognize much of today’s advertising business — which is increasingly driven by technology, data, metrics and accountability — big personalities at the very top continue to reign. So in a way, Mad Men viewers are right. There is still a Don Draper at every agency and they want to talk to me about it. All the time.
Before Mad Men I had to talk about the bullshit weather like everyone else. Today, as soon as someone asks me what I do for a living, I know I won’t have to get into mindless, getting-to-know-you chit chat. Could the end of Mad Men signal the end of an era for all ad folk? I wonder now how long it will be before I’m back to debating the heat vs. the humidity.