Lessons from Mad Men

Posted by Allan Steinmetz on 26 May 2015

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I will admit straight off that I am a big fan of Mad Men. I lived that life when I started my career at McCann-Erickson in 1975 in Detroit as a media planner. McCann-Erickson was known as Coke’s and Exxon’s agency. With the encouragement of these two clients, McCann-Erickson expanded globally and had multiple offices around the world. I was proud to work for such an advertising conglomerate and leader in the industry. We didn’t have the historical trauma of the Kennedy assassination and the Cuban missile crisis. But we did have the Cold War, Watergate and the Nixon resignation and Vietnam.

As a recent advertising grad student I was given lots of opportunity to innovate and create new approaches for buying media for GMC, Buick and the Detroit News. I had great mentors and leaders who appreciated my talents and creativity. Over seven years my career grew and I eventually become the research director for the Detroit office. I was exposed to new research innovations in the New York office. I made friendships with renowned industry leaders there who taught me a great deal about client service and consumer insights.

What has changed from those days of Mad Men in the '60's and '70's? What is similar to the advertising world we know today? 

Mad Men Days

Similarities Between Mad Men and Today


Racial discrimination

Focus on client relationships

Big data and analytics


True consumer insights and analytics

Personalized Content management

Anti-Semitic undertones

Listening to the customer


Creative ruled supreme

Embracing creative impact and surprise

Technology optimization

Account service was about relationships not strategy

Power of a simple idea

Web-enabled marketing and analytics

Technology optimization was nonexistent

Under promise/over deliver

Customer engagement through social media

Media buying focused on print and radio

Be passionate and have fun

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the growth of social media platforms

Big Brands ruled


Racial and sexual parity

It was all about the new business pitch


Digital and Internet media rule

Defend a creative idea at all costs


Diminished influence of traditional media (TV radio and print)

Two martini lunches


Don't forget to have lunch



Large agency consolidation by conglomerates fueled by public markets

    Proliferation of smaller agencies

It is easy to be reminiscent and nostalgic about those old days of advertising. Especially now when we see how the industry has changed so dramatically with the advent of technology, personalized content management, digital mobile technology and the web. But the basics of those days still hold true. The focus on client relationships and service, true consumer insights and analytics, embracing creative impact and surprise, (we used to call it violating consumer expectations) and simply having fun. We shouldn’t forget those traits and only rely on technology alone which seems to be the case today.

I will miss Don Draper with all his flaws and the idiosyncrasies of his crew. Thank you Matthew Weiner, the show gave me good memories and weekly entertainment and enjoyment.