Footnotes of Mad Men: The Fathers of Madison Avenue

Mad Men episode 304, “The Arrangements”: It was all about daddies this week. Dads fighting for the glory of empire in Prussia or Korea, wearing the hats of dead men, clinging to their tattered copies of Roman history while they sleep. Betty’s dad, the millionaire named Ho-Ho’s dad, and, most importantly, Sally Draper’s daddy. Let’s curl up together in our tutus, cease our sobbing, crack open our 1962 copy of Time magazine, and figure out exactly who each daddy is.

As the tensions between Sterling Cooper and their new limey bosses mount, it’s becoming clearer that each character is drawn from a historical figure of advertising.

Starting first with Don. Let’s assume he’s based on ad legend Leo Burnett. Burnett built his success in the ad world around the idea that tapping into consumers’ basic desires and beliefs would stimulate them into buying products (rather than some lengthy text arguing the superiority of one detergent to the other, as was common practice then). For Burnett, images were the argument.

The tension between Don and his Limey boss Price stems from a clash of ideology about the role of advertising in the sixties. This is a famous speech given by Leo Burnett in 1967 about his philosophy and legacy in advertising. This line in particular seems to sum up the entire jai alai fiasco: “When you stoop to convenient expediency and rationalize yourselves into acts of opportunism-for the sake of a fast buck-take my name off the door.”

And what about that limey boss?
Given his predilection for smuggery and ruthless deal-making, it’s safe to assume that he’s based on Brittish dynamo David Ogilvy. In 1962, Time called him “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry.” Ogilvy was responsible for General Foods, Bristol-Myers, Campbell Soup, Lever Bros, and Shell ad campaigns. He is most famous for making high end products, like Rolls Royce, seem like a ‘sensible’ use of one’s money. Appealing to the consumer’s refined taste and class status hawked some of the most high end products. He even made eyepatches look classy. This is a far cry from what Burnett called the “earthy vernacular” of images in advertising.

Ogilvy’s own ad company was purchased in a hostile takeover 20 years down the road by another British holding company. Sir Martin Sorrell, the owner of Ogilvy’s company was, in Ogilvy’s words, an “odious little shit” and he promised to never work again.

Then there’s the guy in the bowtie.

Bert Cooper is the cigar-chomping eccentric studio boss Charles E. Cooper, who ran Cooper Studios. The real life Cooper, who had a cultivated taste in modern art and elegant illustrators, attracted some of the best talent in the hand-drawn advertising racket. Cooper employed the breed of illustrators that Sal lamented were being washed away by photography.


Cooper Studios revolutionized old illustration concepts through the use of perspective, dimensions, and color in their drawings. Time caught up with them, and they did not attract the same level of talent or success when ads started to use glossy photographs. But before then, well, look at this beauty by lauded illustrator Bernie Fuchs (who would have been one of Sal’s contemporaries).

Illustrator Murray Tinkelman, who also worked at Cooper’s, gave an interview about the first time he saw Fuchs work: “It was gorgeous” he said. He conferred with the other two superstars of Cooper Studios, Joe Bowler and Coby Whitmore. Bowler and Whitmore arrived together to inspect the new painting. Whitmore was “speechless,” Bowler said: “I don’t know who the hell did this, but the business is never going to be the same.”

Indeed, it never was.