As 'Mad Men' returns, real world ad men and women weigh in
'Mad Men," the glossy, retro paean to the advertising profession in the morally complex mid-20th century has helped propel young people to Madison Avenue.
As the sixth season of the sexy drama debuts Sunday at 9 p.m., young NYC copywriters and "creatives" say the show inspired them even if it's not an accurate representation of their jobs today.
The glamorous, if politically perilous world depicted in "Mad Men" helped bring Mustafa Ulker, 28, a Greenwich Village copywriting intern originally from Turkey, into the persuasion profession. "The show gives you a push. You want to be that guy!" said Ulker of charismatic protagonist Don Draper. "Mad Men" also provided civilians "a quick cultural reference point" to help understand not just advertising, but the jobs of the people who labor within it, noted Sarah Lloyd, 25, a copywriter for a major agency who lives in Crown Heights. Thanks to "Mad Men," "people now know what a copywriter does," which means Lloyd no longer has to launch into a lengthy explanation of her job at parties, she said.
But today's agency jobs bear little relation to those depicted in the highly stylized show, say advertising professionals.
While "Mad Men" nails the vibe of agency life and the anxiety that can accompany pitching, it is woefully passe in its depiction of the current work day, which can now extend into the night, say those who labor in influence farms.
What was once a Wild West of maverick ideas is now a corporate, highly hierarchical and often data-driven world with multiple checks and balances, and where ideas float up and down ladders before final approval. Markets today are seen not only as global, but diverse. Digital and social media strategies -- absent in Mad Men -- are hugely important today. Not to mention that an agency which might once have been on Madison Avenue is today just as likely to be located in Williamsburg or on Eleventh Ave.
"Information accessibility changes how a campaign is done," said Adam Bartholomew, 28, an account executive at Zenith Media. Ads are no longer targeted to one monolithic market via radio, TV and print, but tailored geographically and digitally to specific niche markets. And, Bartholomew continued, advertisers go to great pains to avoid stereotypes: "Back then, if you saw a doctor in an ad, it would be a man," (and, inevitably a Caucasian one). "Now, everything is much more inclusive, much more multi-culturally focused: You want the ads to really resonate with your audience," and to anticipate how they may be perceived by different people.
Also, the days of one person (again, usually a white guy) dictating an entire campaign are long gone. Women are better represented in creative positions as well, everyone agreed.
And that swoon-worthy grooming, the incredible clothes and perfect coifs?
Not so much. While some in his profession have decided to embrace retro styles and precision tailoring, "my generation is much more casual," said Greg Warren, 24, a senior media planner who lives in Williamsburg.