There is a tendency to view the past through rose colored glasses. Pain is gradually forgotten and pleasant memories soon outweigh everything else. Thus, the 'good old days' really become, at least in our minds, good. But were the 'good old days' of the advertising business really good?
Over the last two years or so I have noted the incredible impact made by Mad Men. Of course alte kachers like me enjoy the show. But I am fascinated by the appeal this show has had for the younger generation of advertising professionals. What are they so mesmerized by, anyhow? Mattel is actually bringing out a premium-price collectors' series in the Barbie Fashion Model Collection based on Mad Men: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/10/business/media/10adco.html
Some of it is, of course, the pure glamour of it all. Everyone was dressed; suits and ties, dresses, heels and stockings. And the cocktails, cigarettes and sex. (We didn't drink as much, and I don't know who was having that much sex, but yes, everyone smoked all the time).
And it all seemed so optimistic. No one got downsized. Everyone had a real shot at the brass ring. And for the most part, they were apprenticed on the job; the big agencies all saw training as part of their mission. You really couldn't learn advertising in an academic environment. You learned on the job, from an old(er) pro. Don Draper is a perfect archetype; a 'new man' without a past, works his way up from the bottom based on talent and drive, makes it to the big time, and brings a bunch of youngsters along for the ride.
People stayed at an agency for a long time. They were something like family. And most of the agencies were private. As Ed Ney (and Sig Larmon before him) reminded us at Y&R's Christmas Employees Meeting: there is power in privacy! Happy employees and happy clients were all that mattered. Wall Street didn't matter (except in so far as it affected our clients' ability to spend). And that made it more fun too.
But the business got corporatized and went public. A few people made mega bucks and a lot of people simply got screwed. The tenure of agency/client relationships got shorter and shorter as CMOs (with a tenure averaging about 22 months themselves) brought in the new and threw out the old. Media became part of a factory process where wit and creativity were often sacrificed for margin. Creative ideas got commoditized and devalued as part of the endless new business pitch. And the 15% commission made it all possible.
So was it better then? I sure think so. Maybe that's why we'll have a Don Draper poseable action figure and not one for Martin Sorrell.
Jerry Shereshewsky is CEO of grandparents.com; a lifestage website for the baby boomer grandparents of today and tomorrow. Jerry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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