Today’s Mad Men
To peer back in time via AMC’s hit show “Mad Men” is like gazing into an old GAF Viewmaster. The advertising world it nostalgically depicts, often referred to as the “creative revolution,” is frozen in a Purgatorial time warp. Each cultural meme of the show – from the Brylcreemed hair to the mod clothes donned by Don Draper – is a still frame with a Technicolor tint. When held up to the light, it appears more brilliant and unreal.
Click fast-forward to a 2012 vantage point, then turn back, and you’ll find we’ve since experienced numerous revolutions, some creative and many destructive. We’ve gone from LPs to iPods, Super 8 to streaming and economic expansion to tsunami.
Most recently, with the economic collapse of 2008, the ad agency world took a major, seismic shift. I call it a post-apocalyptic diaspora, made manifest by talent slashed and set free to launch out on their own, hang a shingle and (in ’60s-speak) do their own thing.
While it will always be a business built on collaboration, one doesn’t need four walls and an address on Madison Avenue (or even Madison Street) any longer. You see, just as the economy was collapsing, technology, like a phoenix, was rising.
Today, because of this winged bird, handpicked teams of ex-staffers can be rounded up anywhere by anyone with an opportunity and brought together. Distinct from typical crowdsourcing, many of us are vets who once worked side-by-side in cubicled offices inside one of those skyscrapers. After the dust cleared, we reconnected via LinkedIn and now share and brainstorm via Skype, operate a virtual network via Drop Box and thanks to smartphones are, well, always there and always on.
When we do collaborate, work gets done much faster and more efficiently, as there’s no need for artifice and bull. While on the show Don, Roger, Bert and Pete bicker about whose office is bigger, we are a SWAT team pulled into an assignment with a clear objective and an exit plan. Oh – and with less overhead and no sleek conference rooms, clients love the savings we pass on to them.
Viewed through the hazy hues of the Wayback Machine via cable TV, back there in “Mad Men” land, everybody clicked and clacked on typewriters. Today our heads are buried in iPads, sipping java at a corner Starbucks.
Back then, everyone smoked in elevators, offices and taxicabs and had three-martini lunches; today, I might work out at the gym during lunch, get a call via Skype and cut a deal between bench sets.
Back then, women (except for a lucky few, like Peggy) were secretaries. Today, they are strategic partners and collaborators running their own show. Inverting roles further: I’m the working dad who married the doctor, who also needs to pick up and shlep my kids to karate, piano and every sort of sport in a Japanese import. There, stuffed in the backseat with them and keeping their fingers occupied and their minds entertained, are the Viewmasters of today.
Back in the rearview mirror, Don and the bunch are unaware of the social revolution about to strike. In mine, I can already see the future one developing.
Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant living in Towson.