As the season winds down on one of my favorite shows (that just happens to focus on an industry close to my own) it’s fun to look at what the show got “right” about our world of agencies and clients. Granted, the season isn’t over yet – the agency could sink a big fish client as Don wants, or be happy with their mid-size roster for awhile or even resign Jaguar, what with all its unpleasant associations (namely unsavory sex and suicide), but I think there were some key themes that resonate with today’s mad men and women.
Show don’t tell, all the better to sell
This little axiom proved out during the season most memorably as Don and pretty new wife Megan used their wit and banter to demonstrate to potential client Heinz the agency’ skill in getting housewives to buy more baked beans. During what appears to be just normal chatter between themselves and the Heinz head and his wife, Megan skillfully cues Don to talk colorfully about their own family dinners and, voila, the personal touch sells better than any boards and copy could.
There will always be bad bosses
New copywriter Ginsberg begins to gain real traction as a creative force and even stands up to Don pushing a campaign idea for new client Sno-Cone. Don, feeling old, threatened, jealous or all of the above, demonstrates the worst creative director qualities by leaving Ginsberg’s work in the cab. He pitches only his own idea (featuring a devil, not subtle symbolism!) and closing the deal. Ginsberg never knows about this bad boss behavior but Don later tells Ginsberg “I never think about you at all.” Ouch, bad boss, very bad boss.
Women need to know their worth
It is the mid-60’s on the show, and women have made great strides in the business world but are still treated as 2nd-class citizens (or in Joan’s case, as “chattel!”) Peggy spent much of the season chafing at a perceived (actual?) relegation to solely “female brands” and the knowledge that although she could belt them back with the boys, she wasn’t competing on the pay scale. When she dips one tiny toe into the job market, she is amply rewarded by a great competitive offer and she jumps. Although Don tries to counter, it seems desperate and emboldens Peggy all the more to move to a better work environment. Sadly, this women’s wage gap is still true, with the recent failure of the Paycheck Fairness Act, so the 60s are not dead!