Mad Men and Me

November 14, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Mad Men” closed out its season.  (Spoiler alert). The agency is about to be sold to a huge firm, so the key players slip off to regroup as a new, independent firm, taking as many accounts as they can with them. The final scenes contrast the spacious and elegant offices, now deserted, with their new venue – a suite in the Hotel Pierre. Instead of an office, each person gets an area of the living room. The media guy goes over his files on the bed in the bedroom.

(Click on the picture for a larger view.)

Is it realistic, this social organization of ad agencies? Yes, and here’s my anecdotal evidence.

Way back, decades ago when I was a young academic, I did a consulting project in the private sector. The company had also called in the legendary ad man Julian Koenig. Koenig had been a copy writer at Doyle Dane Bernbach, where he was the brains behind the Volkswagen “Think Small” campaign, the Timex takes-a-licking campaign, and others. He left DDB, and, with Fred Papert and George Lois, formed their own agency, one that had much success. Then he quit.

Eventually, he decided to get back in the business, and that’s how our paths crossed. The same guy that had hired me for a sociological angle had hired Koenig for an ad man’s perspective. I met Koenig briefly out in the field. When I got back to New York, I wrote up my report and sent it to the company. Weeks later, I got a call from Koenig’s office inviting me to have lunch so we could compare notes.

Koenig had returned to advertising in a small way – a four person agency– and their office was a suite in the Delmonico Hotel. Koenig had set up his office in one of the two bedrooms, sharing it with their media expert; the secretary/receptionist/bookkeeper (she was also Koenig’s girlfriend) had a desk in the other bedroom; and the accounts man seemed to have the living room, where he welcomed guests (like me).

It looked very much like the suite in “Mad Men” but with less furniture – the same light filtering through the curtains, the same dull-colored, worn carpeting. I think Koenig had even managed to get the Timex account back in his portfolio. Watching Draper, Roger, and the others in that hotel took me back. The three of us (Koenig, Accounts Guy, me) had a nice lunch at a French restaurant, Koenig said he’d liked my report – my ideas tallied with his own – and that was that. But seeing this Mad Men hotel suite got me to wondering: what if I too had somehow been able to jump ship and throw in my lot with the ad men?


Anonymous said...

i found the episode interesting in terms of thinking about the theory of the firm. since sterling cooper doesn't have any assets in the conventional sense of factory machinery, etc, it really is nothing more nor less than a nexus of contracts.

Jay Livingston said...

Gabriel, What's also interesting about the "nexus of contracts" is the interplay of the personal and the corporate. Who is the contract with -- the firm or the people in the firm? Officially, it's the former; on Mad Men, the real contract was with the people. But what if only one person left. Suppose Pete had taken a job at McCann-Erickson. Could he have taken "his" accounts with him? When a professors moves to a new university, do they take "their" students with them?

These are not simple yes/no questions. But I'd be curious to know about all the elements that go into the decision.

Unknown said...

well i missed this season so i dont know anything about the storyline. so i have decided to watch Mad Men Online so that i can know what happened in this season.

Anonymous said...

Its really nice show. I have seen every single episode of this show and enjoyed it a lot. Mad Men is such a great show to watch online.

Anonymous said...

Mad Men is my favorite show. Well written storyline and great cast can be seen in this show. I like this show very much.