Jigsaw LLC


Mad Men is back. But has it ever really gone away?

— Culture & Observations —

In just a few days, Mad Men is (finally) returning with new episodes. As we get ready to travel back in time to the 1960’s, I started to think about what’s changed in the world of advertising and what’s stayed the same. Has the advertising world of Mad Men ever really gone away?

What’s changed?

The rise of billable hours
In the 1960’s, advertising agencies made most of their money from media commissions. Today, agencies increasingly depend on billable hours to keep the doors open and paychecks from bouncing. Which leads us to…

You can’t do a full day’s work after a three-martini lunch. That’s not a big problem if you get big media commissions. It is a problem if agency revenue comes from billable hours or value/performance-based billing

The elements of a campaign
The very act of reading this blog on our agency’s website illustrates a fundamental change in advertising since the 1960’s –– even since the early 1990’s. In the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Creative Department, a campaign consisted of television, radio, print and outdoor. Today, our campaigns have all of those mass media elements plus online components, social media strategies, smart phone apps, experiential marketing and guerrilla executions.

Don and Peggy were creating one-way communications that pushed information out to people. Today, thanks to technology, we are creating two-way conversations. Now, we both create content and curate content created by consumers.

Support staff
When we first entered the world of Sterling Cooper, everyone in creative and account service had a secretary. (Can you picture Don Draper making copies?) Today, it’s increasingly rare for even a partner to have a personal assistant. It’s the DIY era.

Overt sexism
Thankfully, overt sexism has gone the way of Joan’s girdle. Today, women aren’t let go when they get married or have a baby, and the majority of us are not called “Sweetie.” Now, women of all ages and family status make valuable contributions in almost every agency in every discipline, and some agencies have women in top leadership positions.

Advertising has made huge strides in improving gender equality, but, like every industry, it still needs to improve. For example, women are not equally represented in the top creative leadership roles or in judging panels at award shows. This equally applies to minorities.

What’s stayed the same?

Advertising is still a competitive field that attracts some of the same personality types represented on the show. You’ll still meet Pete Campbells who will do just about anything to get ahead. We still have Joans who understand the system and masterfully work every angle as much as they can. We still have Peggys –– young, ambitions, smart women who defy traditional gender roles. And, as the grapevine can attest, we still hear whispers of illicit affairs. (Then again, what industry doesn’t?)

The fundamentals
I found a conversation with Berny Brownstein, Chairman and Chief Creative officer of the Brownstein Group, about what’s changed and what’s stayed the same since the Mad Men era.

At the most fundamental level, advertising hasn’t changed. Berny Brownstein said it best: “Our job is still to motivate people. We motivated through creativity, emotional copy and dramatic graphics. That is still prevalent today.” Hear the whole interview at:

I think this is why so many of us in this industry connect so deeply with the show. Our bond with all the people at Sterling Cooper is our work. Just like Don, Pete, Peggy and Roger we are all in the business of selling good ideas that are based on truth and authentic emotions.

How do you think advertising agency life has changed in the past half century? How do you think it’s stayed the same? We’d love to read your comments.

Posted by Jigsaw