A lot of our understanding of reality and the accompanying mental images that we create are shaped by TV series and movies, so, with that said, how realistic is the advertising in Mad Men?
If it’s been a few years since you’ve seen Mad Men, it is the four-time Outstanding Drama Emmy-winning AMC original TV series that is based on a variety of characters that work at an advertising agency in New York during the 1960s. As you watch this fabulously-written TV series, you will follow multiple stories, all fictional, that show the characters presenting advertising pitches for companies like Kodak, Heinz, Life, Hilton and more. However, with the show still being viewed daily (thanks to its contract with Netflix), people still want to know how the “Sterling Cooper-Draper Pryce” agency compares to an actual advertising agency.
Mad Men Ads vs. Real Ads
Considering we are talking about advertising, we might as well start with the actual ads that the writers and the designers of the TV series created. Business Insider did a great job creating a compare and contrast of the ads you see in Mad Men vs. actual 1960-advertisements from the companies mentioned in the show. While the Mad Men ads have components of an actual ad that a company would produce, they miss out on the research and the captured target market in their ads. However, the creators of the TV series did a good enough job reproducing believable images that normal viewers would not question.
The Advertising Process and Pitches
There are multiple scenes that show intense pitch meetings, but where you’d usually find creative directors, account supervisors, and copywriters brainstorming and coming up with fresh ideas, you see television drama. Mad Men is often praised for its attention to detail and authenticity (as it should be), but you can’t have a successful TV series (that is based on a fictional story) by showing everything that happens at an advertising agency. For example, an area in which they lack, naturally, is how long and how much detail goes into actual meetings with potential clients. While Mad Men may share a few ideas and make negotiations in their brief meetings, they miss the additional detail of discussing casting, placement, videographer recommendations, slogans and much more that comes with an advertising campaign.
One of the areas that some ad junkies would agree Mad Men’s representation is accurate is the stress that comes with the job. Advertising agencies are definitely exciting places, but there is some serious pressure and high-stress that comes from trying to come up with a good idea that is supported with solid research.
Now, it may be a little unfair to be so critical of Mad Men — their authenticity of New York in the 1960s is quite amazing. The alcoholism, smoking, issues with gender and racism, and other reoccurring themes are definitely worth praising in this recreation, however, you just can’t capture everything that advertising is in a dramatic TV series. If you were to make it into a factual documentary, you’d be able to better see what an advertising agency looks like, but a TV series like this can only capture aspects. With that said, the depiction is pretty close, but it is like judging and understanding an individual’s entire life based on their Instagram alone.
Advertising has developed a lot since the 1960s, and we are in a world that is ran by digital media. If you want to learn more about what a modern advertising agency looks like, return to our homepage and take a look.