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Mad Men Series 6 – and the trouble with Harry’s dress sense

March 8, 2013

Mad MenOK readers, who’s the dude in the middle with the tasteful mustard jacket, silk cravat and sideburns? None other than our old pal Harry Crane, head of media at Sterling Cooper Draper (we imagine the “Pryce” has been dropped after recent events, but you never know: Stanley Pollitt, of BMP, continued to perform miracles after he had been dead for years).

Anyway, back to Crane and the latest series of Mad Men, which returns to US screens (but not alas our own, unless we’re Sky subscribers) on April 7th. The trouble with Harry is he’s such a fashion victim – a weak personality seeking momentary identification with every passing sartorial trend. In the past, that’s mostly meant a new pair of outrageously over-emphatic adman’s glasses. But here, in series 6, the preppy-groovy look has completely taken over.

Not much sign of that in Roger, other than slightly lengthened sideburns. And none at all in Don, who retains a circa-1959 cool dress sense. Let’s hope he’s finally disposed of the fedora. We thought that went out with President Kennedy. But Don was still wearing his in 1966. It’s one of those few, painful, anachronisms that crop up in the meticulously researched Lionsgate series. Another solecism was the otherwise elegantly restrained Pryce’s table manners when he was (as he thought) wining and dining his future Jaguar client. Still more so Mrs Pryce’s faux pas when she uttered, in a perfect cut-glass accent, the word “gotten”. No one in England has used that word since about 1800; it’s “got”.

Still, let’s not quibble over what remains an excellent series. We’ll all be glued to the screen. Once, at least, the DVD is released.

Meantime, here are a couple more shots to emerge from the studioDraper

Crane

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Newsweek’s Tina Brown flags Mad Men revival with retro ads fest

January 13, 2012

Creatives, sharpen your pencils. Tina Brown, editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, has a new challenge for you.

Well, not “new” perhaps; more “retro”. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hone those copy skills which you might, if you were extremely lucky, have learned at the knee of David Abbott or, very distantly indeed, Bill Bernbach (ob.1982).

The brief? To turn a whole edition of Newsweek into a celebration of Mad Men’s fifth season premiere, on March 25th, with 60’s-themed ads.

It’s difficult to know who’s been commercially cuter here, with this “life imitating art” fest: Brown, who needs to boost flagging Newsweek ad revenue; or Matthew Weiner, creator and executive producer of the critically acclaimed but hardly money-spinning Lionsgate TV series, who needs to give the long-delayed fifth series the best uplift possible.

It’s nearly a year and a half now since Don Draper and his chums last graced our screens, mainly thanks to a protracted dispute between Weiner and Mad Men’s TV sponsor, AMC Network. Last March, Weiner eventually emerged with a new $30m contract which, reportedly, will guarantee us another 3 series.

For Brown, the hope is that the March 19th Mad Men edition will provide the crowning glory to a low-profile turnaround for Newsweek. Ad pages dropped 17% in 2011, but the magazine has experienced a steady quarterly recovery since her well-received redesign, launched on March 14th last year.

Of course, that’s not what she’s saying in public:

Newsweek was very much on the cultural forefront at the time of the show. It covered the events that are so much of the background for the show’s drama — the burgeoning civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the Vietnam War. That was Newsweek’s cutting-edge beat and its flourishing journalistic subject. So it seemed like a wonderful marriage in a sense to take that and apply it to the magazine, to make the magazine an homage to the period.

As opposed to today when the magazine does… what exactly? Maybe it’s not such a smart idea to remind people of its past glories after all.

No matter. Here’s a great opportunity to dust down those copywriting skills. And this, by way of inspiration, is what you’ll be up against. A bit of Bernbach’s immortal VW Beetle advertising. And, from the same agency DDB, the scarcely less famous “We try harder” for Avis. No tobacco advertising, though. Historical authenticity doesn’t stretch to allowing parodies of a Lucky Strike campaign.

Alas, most of us in Blighty are going to have to bide our time with Mad Men Mark V. The BBC has lost the screening rights to: – subscriber-only Sky Atlantic. Roll on the series DVD, retailed by Amazon.


The agency kickback scandal you couldn’t make up if you tried

November 10, 2010

One staple theme yet to make its appearance in our favourite TV soap, Mad Men, is the celebrated agency kickback. No doubt it will in time.

But why wait for the soap when you can have the real thing, authentically reproduced in verbatim court transcripts?

I refer here to a protracted States-side legal case which Grey Advertising Group has just lost after attempting to suppress the evidence for a decade.

And what a very unedifying picture that evidence paints. Internal memos and personal transcripts reveal an agency whose senior executives were steeped to the gills in a conspiracy to deny major clients Procter & Gamble, Mars, British American Tobacco (BAT) and SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)) about £4m that was rightfully theirs.

Before going any further, you’ll appreciate that I have to flag up a legal health warning. All these events took place a long, long time ago – up to 20 years ago in some cases. Almost all the protagonists have now quit the business. And at that time WPP, which now owns Grey, was no more than an expletive uttered by Grey supremo Ed Meyer – who then held the agency lock, stock and barrel – every time he lost an account to JWT or Ogilvy.

Also, I’d like to point out that what follows is a very much abbreviated version of a story recently broken by my fellow blogger Jim Edwards, whose detailed account can be found here.

Now back to the script. The scene is Grey’s London office, then at the top of Great Portland Street, circa 1998. New American ceo, Steve Blamer (left), has just arrived to take over from long-serving managing director Roger Edwards. An increasingly incredulous Blamer is updating himself on the agency’s financial position, with the help of chief financial officer Roy Wilson:

Blamer: P&G is that much?

Wilson: Yep.

Blamer: Jesus… I’m telling you, the reality is you as the financial officer and me as the ceo and now Roger (presumably Edwards) could be sued. I mean, we’re cheating and stealing from our clients. That is the truth.

And later…

Blamer: I believe we should return these discounts. I’m not going to, I can’t make that decision unilaterally…If those guys (senior management, in New York) say that we’re not going to do it, and we can keep the discounts… then I say, fuck it that’s crazy, send me a note, I want a ‘Get out of jail free’ card.

Of course, handing back the discounts – mostly from print contracts – would open a whole new can of worms; as Edwards was quick to explain, citing one client in particular.

Edwards: Mars is such a vitriolic client, that if they did catch you doing that they would probably punish you very severely. They would take you back years, take a brand off you or something like that.

Not surprisingly, everyone decided to stay mum. But they did change the terms of business, so that future discounts would be rebated to the client.

You might ask yourself why clients were not better informed about what was going on. After all, it was their money. The answer seems to be Three Wise Monkeys syndrome. Indeed, even those party to what was going on within the agency were baffled by clients’ seeming ignorance, or indifference.

Blamer: Have they [clients] ever discovered that in an audit?

Wilson: No.

Blamer: And why is that?

Wilson: …I mean to be honest one has to be a bit surprised that none of them have ever specifically, eyeball to eyeball… and then asked the question, since it’s a clause in every one of our contracts, but…

In view of this circle of deceit and self-deception, it might seem surprising that anything ever came to light. The weak link, indirectly, was Wilson, who rightly feared he might be made a scapegoat and had the conversations taped and transcribed as an insurance policy should he ever get fired. Which he later was.

The case of Grey is, of course, no isolated instance, merely a well documented one. Currently, there is a still-breaking media-buying scandal in China – involving broker kickbacks – which has already claimed the scalps of Vivaki Exchange’s two top China operators. Earlier this year, Aegis Media finally put the so-called Aleksander Ruzicka affair to bed, when it settled €30m on Danone in lieu of unpaid TV advertising rebates. And going back a few years, readers may remember Interpublic’s belatedly generous settlement on clients of media volume discounts, whose non-payment had come to light as a byproduct of the accounting scandal that engulfed the group at the beginning of this decade.


Why Don Draper won the Dove brief

August 3, 2010

Unilever has come up with a cute but controversial “hommage within an hommage” advertising blitz – featuring six of its power brands – in the latest series of Mad Men, which is now airing in the USA.

Like the series itself, the ads recreate a fictional early Sixties hot shop; in this case SmithWinterMitchell. Each episode stars two of its principals, copywriter Phil Smith and art director Tad Winter, wrestling with a campaign brief for, in succession, Dove, Breyers, Hellman’s, Klondike, Suave and Vaseline.

Neat, eh? And there’s more. The ads (devised by WPP’s Mindshare Entertainment) subtly underline the deep brand heritage. “The featured brands are prominent today and were popular in the 1960s, when Mad Men is set,” suggests a Unilever spokewoman, quoted in Ad Age.

So far, so good. The controversial bit is that viewers and the blogosphere don’t seem to like them very much. Some have deprecated the prelapsarian style of the pitch – and contrasted the first ad, featuring Dove, unfavourably with the cutting-edge modernity of the Real Women theme. Others have juxtaposed the “fake” production values of the ad mini-series with the exquisite realism of the content surrounding it.

It’s true, the ads are corny compared with the programme they mimic. But somehow I don’t think anyone at Unilever, Mindshare, or indeed AMC (the cable station that broadcasts Mad Men) will be losing sleep over the criticisms. The big irony of the ad soap opera – featuring Don Draper, Roger Sterling and sundry curvaceous size-16 “role models” – is that it doesn’t attract much advertising. In 2009, it earned under $2m ad revenue – according to Kantar – a performance barely exceeded in the previous two seasons. But then, it’s a highbrow drama that doesn’t attract much of an audience either. Some 2.4 million people tuned into the fourth-season premiere on July 25; and that’s a lot better than previous seasons’ viewing figures. Then again, each of the 12 or 13 episodes apparently costs over $3m to produce. In short, if Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce really were an ad agency – rather than a lovingly recreated fictional prism of WASP society before the Fall – it would have gone bust by now.

All of which rather misses the point of the programme’s existence and what Unilever is doing advertising in it. For AMC, it’s a halo product, a loss leader that encourages advertisers to buy into the schlock inventory that attracts mass audiences. For Unilever, it’s a cut-price opportunity to get itself talked about by America’s chattering classes. Sadly for Unilever, we in the UK will never be able to judge how much of an adornment or annoyance the ads really are. TV rights over here are held by the BBC.

Here’s a link to the Dove campaign. I particularly like the bit at the end, where the two admen – having been given the brief on a platter by their “Peggy Olson” secretary – reward themselves with a round of golf. Now that really is a period touch.


Why creativity is getting back into bed with media

May 1, 2009

There’s an interesting piece by John Gapper in the FT tying together some salient trends in Madland. His thesis is that creativity and media planning are getting rehitched after a lengthy divorce. It’s a bit of a shot-gun remarriage driven by two compelling circumstances: 1) cost pressures caused by the recession, which will make the big networks rationalise the ragbag of boutique specialists they have acquired over the years and 2) the nature of effective internet marcoms, which is a million miles from the traditional segmentation of agency skills. Here’s the flavour of 2). ” [Internet campaigns] demand a lot of creativity –  a good internet or mobile campaign is more like a short piece of programming or entertainment than a marketing pitch – and a sophisticated grasp of consumers, and how to use old and new media. In other words, it draws on the entire range of the industry’s fragmented skills.”

Certainly something will have to give as revenue is squeezed out of the traditional agency model. Check out Coca-Cola attempts to impose a new “no win, no profit” fee structure on its agencies.


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