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PBS Documents Advertising's Mad Men and Women
By: Jeff Louis
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Advertising industry fans of AMC's 1960s-era hit, "Mad Men," realize the show is a historical portrayal of fictitious characters loosely based on a real conglomeration of execs from top U.S. advertising agencies mainly clustered in New York City on Madison Avenue. In fact, "Madison Avenue" is an interchangeable term for U.S. ad agencies.

When I was fresh out of college, I worked with a strategic account planner, a grizzled, cynical character who was whip-smart; he cut his teeth in the industry during the radical '60s. On rare occasions, he reflected on the "old days" and stories would pour forth, leaving me both regretful and thankful that I'd been but a twinkle in my father's eye when the agency revolution occurred. While I may have missed this awakening, I hunger for books, materials, and personal accounts of where we once were as an industry. In order to know where you're going, it's a good idea to know where you've been.  

While Madison Avenue was the heartbeat of the industry, many of today's ultimate success stories cropped up in places like Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland (Oregon), spawning an overhaul of the industry. New York may have been the place that most advertising grads flocked to to test their mettle, but great work came from everywhere.

Madison Avenue, from a national standpoint, successfully invaded America's living rooms, sponsoring shows, airing commercials, and setting trends. Advertising taught generations how to bet groovy; it was simply a matter of owning the right stuff. Likewise, ad messages helped fence-sitters avoid being known as "squares."


Many of today's well-respected agencies grew out of these early days, introducing talented individuals who became legendary. People like George Lois, Mary Wells, Dan Wieden, Hal Riney, and Lee Clow, just to name a few, built some of the most well-respected agencies in existence (TWBA ChiatDay, Publicis & Hal Riney, Wieden+Kennedy, and Goodby, Silverstein, & Partners). 

Ad campaigns created by these mad men (and women) are embedded in our minds: "Where's the Beef" (Wendy's), "Got Milk?" (American Dairy Association), "I Want My MTV" (MTV), and "1984" (Apple), to name a few.GotMilk

"Art & Copy" will premier on PBS's "Independent Lens" at 10 p.m. On Oct. 26, 2010. The brainchild of director Doug Pray, the 90-minute behind-the-scenes look at the real mad men (and women) who became masters at moving people to not only purchase goods and services, but to influence culture in general.

I was able to view "Art & Copy" in advance and have to say I learned more in 90 minutes about the industry than I have in past years. It's rich an inspirational, creative take on an industry whose sole purpose is to creatively inspire.

The site provides excerpts cut from the premiere, as well as an interview with Pray. If you work, or desire to work, in the advertising industry, this is one film that's a must-see. It may change the way you view the industry and the world around you. 

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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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