The Last Three Martini Lunch: My Take on Mad Men

The new TV series about the glory days of Madison Avenue airs this Thursday night on AMC.

I got into the advertising business in the early 80's and had the very last three martini lunch in New York. This show reminds me that I missed out on all the fun. Lots of drinking, smoking, and sex -- and that's just what happens in the office! Sounds exactly like the stories that old account men told me when I was getting into the business and they were getting out. I love the political incorrectness of the show -- particularly one scene where a department store is coming in to see the agency, a very Waspy, white-shoed firm typical of a time when Jews and Italians were forced to start
their own firms to get jobs. When the senior partner asks if they can find a Jew to bring into the meeting to make the prospect "Comfortable" the executive replies, "do you want me to go to the deli and get one?!". That's genius. In fact, it is business and not political correctness that led to reforms in the agency business. Jewish writers and Italian art directors teamed up to create campaigns with heart and soul that moved product and created brands like Volkswagen and Avis in the 60s. Mad Men takes place at the dawn of this new era and as such becomes like a documentary on the last days of the Roman Empire. The seeds of its decline are foreshadowed. The agencys big account is of course a cigarette brand, lucky stripe. And the account man fights the notion that cigarettes can kill you which was just hitting popular consciousness at the time.

Today, there are very few agencies on madison avenue, and in fact New York itself is arguably no longer the dominant center of the business. Rome still exists today, but has been reduced to a core of global agencies headquartered on Madison Avenue. The buildings look old and war weary. The Colosseums of advertising. I look forward to watching the next few episodes when the cracks in the
business become fissures and the barbarians sack the empire. Good stuff.