Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

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.

20 Comments / Post A Comment

sunnyciegos (#551)

And the jai alai ball thing smashed the ant farm! SYMBOLISM.

I know!! I gasped! And Don walking away from it LITERALLY not his mess to clean up, etc. *faints*

mathnet (#27)

Harry said! It's a pelota, people.

mathnet (#27)

(Also I love this column.)

Teehee! Pelota translates to 'naked' in Spanish.

nixon02 (#1,559)

Well yeah, no, not really. It means ball. "Pelotas" with an S, as an idiom, is sometimes used to mean naked, but only if you kind of qualify it by saying "he/she/it was" before the word. If you entered a room in Spain and just said "pelotas, pelotas, pelotas" people would think "balls, balls, balls", not naked naked naked. You'd have to say "estaba en pelotas" (he/she/it was in…) to change it from a noun to an adjetive.

sunnyciegos (#551)

Mad Men is so visually sumptuous, even when the story plods it’s just so swoony, all of it. If you’re a lover of details it’s the perfect show for you. And how fun that the last couple of episodes displayed a wry humor rather than being as dreary as most of season 2. It's a nice relief from the show's often heavy handling of its Very Important Themes. From the descending scale of the theme song to Sallie reading "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" to Roger in blackface it’s like OMG I get it, thank you! These are horrible complacent people well on their way to ruin! But then I just stare at the line of Don’s jaw in the halflight and forget what I was saying.

sunnyciegos (#551)

I do really like the ant farm metaphor, though. It flattered my smarts.

This is why I refuse to watch Lost. It's like could it possibly tingle my ladybrains as much as the Mad Men? DOUBTFUL

libmas (#231)

I don't think Don is a bit complacent. I think he really was reborn in California (hello, baptism in the ocean). He called Roger out at Roger's party – bad for the old career, but good for his integrity. Then he told Ho Ho to bail on the million dollar deal. If Ho Ho had listened, it might have cost Don his career. And last episode, he noticed his daughter was suffering – the exchange of looks after Mom told her to go watch TV was fantastic. There's a reason he smashes the ant farm. He's not playing along. I'll shut up now.

sunnyciegos (#551)

I think it's fair to say that Don is the one that sees through everything. As a fake himself he recognizes the fakery in others – but they don't see it in themselves. I'd disagree that he is not playing along. He does almost everything his new British overlords tell him to. He only told Roger to basically knock it off in a private moment at the party. And he went along with the Patio concept! As for Ho Ho, I think it was a display of Don's diminishing power at Sterling Cooper.

Meanwhile I just watched Lost for the first time, and its idea of imagery is to have the camera linger on meaningful can of peanut butter labeled PEANUT BUTTER in big black letters. I can feel my brain atrophying by the second. So, Mad Men gooood.

denton (#1,629)

"Bill it to The Kid…" – Draper after smashing ant farm.

This is exactly how I feel about the show. Sometimes when people are like, what did you think of last night's episode. I feel as though the question is equivalent to asking me what I thought about a single page in a novel? Not that it's all perfect but part of this incredible narrative. Or it's like asking which position would I like to consummate my love for Don in. It's like DOES THE POSITION EVEN MATTER?

This is my livejournal.

johnpseudonym (#1,452)

And all I got out of this episode was that other people hate Prussians, too.

I feel like it opened the door for Prussian haters to be open about THE TRUTH.

bb (#295)

I have a hard time seeing Price as Ogilvy just b/c he doesn't seem very creative or witty… in fact that's a way underdeveloped character so far, eh? And also, they mention the real Ogilvy in the episode and that doesn't seem right.

Fair point. But the idea is that the characters are symbolic of historical forces going on in 1960's advertising rather than reincarnates. The idea of a British ad magnate bumping heads with Mad Ave Men is legit. Also the difference in philosophy between Ogilvy and Burnett in terms of a crass display of wealth/status to appeal to consumers rather than solidly middle class images. That tension exists between Don and Price/Duck I believe. Expediency is key. OMG pretty sure I'm doing fan fiction right now.

rockfalls3 (#1,624)

Missed some other "father" symbolism:
* Peggy's sister tells us their Mom is upset over the death of the "Holy Father", who was John XXIII, who'd just died less than 10 days before when the episode's supposed to take place. (This reference to Catholicism toward the beginning is neatly bookended with Sally's seeing the Buddhist monk's immolation at the end.)

* Bobby (is it the same child actor this season?) said last season, to Don, "We've got to get you a new Daddy."

And another thing that slipped through…

* Gene's proud of his time in the foxholes, but we learned (last season?) that Don couldn't get out of
that bomb blast hole soon enough.

Rick Adlam (#7,573)

Great story. I feel that the Scottish David Ogilvy was the inspiration for the character, because he was the only one that I knew of that sold door to door.
Don Draper not only thinks of the ad concept, but has the sales ability, one on one too. [This was David's passion]
The carousel sales story was designed by a sales genius. Their are so many references to Lee DuBois's sales techniques in that 3 minute presentation.
Restate the keyword, [wheel = technology then swivel it,]
Explain why the opposing idea is a good one, and why yours is more relevant to the audience and even better,
Analogues used to explain difficult concepts.
Demonstrate why your idea is better, and why it makes sense.
Explain Why with emotional references and showing how photos can recall love.
Tying an irrefutable fact to your story.
There' Lee's the READY formula plus more all used in 3 minutes.

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