It’s a good thing Mad Men’s Don Draper lived in the 1960’s, when Madison Avenue executives were thriving and “style, confidence, debauchery, lust and action” defined the job (as the Emmy Award-winning AMC series would have us believe).
Today, of course, it's not quite so swinging: "the job market is pretty rotten. Opportunities are limited. Agencies aren't doing the same kind of hiring they were five years ago, and there's no denying that those closer to 55 are going to have a harder time,” Nancee Martin, director-talent at Omnicom Group's TBWA Worldwide, commented to Ad Age. "In the past, advertising spoke to the audience, now it's more of a conversation. There are a lot of great Don Drapers out there today, and the really great ones are the ones who've learned to add to their game and keep their eye on the prize," observed Robert Manni, president of Agent16, to the Guardian.
Indeed, Ad Age estimates that agencies accounted for 189,700 jobs in pre-recession 2007, but by January 2010, that number was down by 30,000 jobs. As of November 2011, agencies had regained 17,000 jobs, but not the same jobs, and the majority were being filled by younger digital talent. As the fifth season of Mad Men kicks off with a two-hour special on AMC on Sunday night, what is thriving is the marketing of products related to the franchise and the concomitant glamorization of that era.
In addition to the usual music, DVDs and t-shirts, the franchise has spawned men’s clothing from Banana Republic with a new line due this spring, Barbie and Ken dolls of characters Don, Roger, Betty and Joan, and a tie-in makeup collection from Estée Lauder inspired by ‘60s products. For its sophomore collection of Mad Men co-branded menswear and womenswear looks, this time around themed to spring wear, Banana Republic held a fashion show on a Virgin Atlantic airplane (watch above).
Newsweek editor Tina Brown hit a homerun with a retro issue, in print and tablet version, with graphics evocative of 1965. The A-list sponsors on board: Allstate, Benetton, Bloomingdale’s, British Airways, Domtar paper, Dunkin’ Donuts, John Hancock, Geico, Estée Lauder, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, New York Life, Old Forester bourbon, Spam, Triumph motorcycles, Tide, Ultimat vodka and Johnnie Walker.
While 2012 brands work to leverage the successful TV series, the age when “ad execs such as Draper and his team were the "exclusive arbiters of creativity and modernity is over" says Matthew Neale, managing director of global marketing company Golin Harris in the Guardian. "Today's consumers want a conversation with their brands and they are being their own art directors using media like YouTube. That's a big reason why the old model is failing. While this new way will never replace agencies, it shows how competitive things have become and for traditional ad agencies, that's creating panic in the room."
New York magazine, Rolling Stone, Esquire and Entertainment Weekly have all published cover articles or feature stories about Mad Men, while Reminisce produced a slide show titled “1960s Pop Culture in Ads” showing Cadillac, Wolfschmidt’s vodka, I.B.M. electric typewriters and Viceroy cigarettes.
Social e-commerce flash sales site Fab.com has been pushing merch for “people who love modern design,” as the series “resonates with our audience,” said Bradford Shellhammer, chief creative officer, to the New York Times. “A lot of the furniture we sell can be popped into the Mad Men set.”
"I think the new Don Draper has to always be adding to his game, has to understand the power of digital marketing, has to really understand how social media really allows the consumer to participate in the marketing and messaging for a brand," adds Manni.
The three martini lunches may be a thing of the past, but marketers' creativity hasn't waned.
Below, watch series producer Lionsgate and the cast of 'Mad Men' ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange this week ... and more memories from the golden age of Madison Avenue, via Seiter Miller's 20th anniversary video project on YouTube: