This week Mad Men was about jealousy, self worth, deception and manipulation. Given all this intrigue the episode is aptly named Dark Shadows, a reference to the gothic soap opera television series
that ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971. Pete is working on leveraging his head of accounts role at SCDP into a personal PR coup with the New York Times. Encouraged by Bert, Roger decides to do things the old-fashioned way and pitch a new account on the sly. A perfect way to reassert his own worth and keep Pete in his place. While Betty struggles with her weight, Don is weighed down with questioning whether he still “has it” as a hot creative guy. Peggy continues her search for recognition and relevance in the creative department. Rather than growing as an agency by pulling together for the common good, SCDP seems to be stagnating as an agency of self indulgent egos eager to assert themselves at any cost. Perhaps another title could have been “A House Divided Cannot Stand.”
From PR Fantasy To Folly
Pete lets the partners know that he is about to land a great cameo appearance for the agency in an upcoming NY Times Sunday Magazine feature on “hip agencies” in the advertising business. Pete’s cocky elevator speech is punctuated with his remark that the author of the article, Arthur, wants to interview only him about the agency. (This is a reference to an actual article written by Victor Navasky that ran on November 20,1966) I loved Roger’s comment leaving the elevator, “Welcome to Sterling Campbell Draper Pryce,” which was not lost on Bert Cooper.
Being featured in the New York Times is a huge PR coup for an agency and it was particularly powerful in the Mad Men days. There was no internet, digital news services, or social media. Personal relationships were critical to obtaining high profile coverage. While the special feature that Pete is hoping for is wonderful, it is the weekday coverage in the Times advertising column that every agency person coveted. From 1966 until his death in 1988 the legendary Phil Dougherty wrote the advertising column for the New York Times. Phil was a highly respected, influential person in the ad business and a great guy. Coverage by Phil about an agency, one of its new campaigns, personnel changes, etc. could energize an agency and influence clients. Later on in my carer I was fortunate to be featured in a few of his columns. Phil could spot BS a mile away and probably would have sized up Pete very quickly.
When the Navasky article does make it to press, Pete has an all too often experienced PR rude awakening. Granting access, providing an interview and charming a reporter doesn’t mean you get the ink you expected. The article has no mention of SDCP or Pete and his visions of fame and sexual fantasies evaporate into an agry tyriad. Don has no sympathy for Pete and comments on a picture of the founders of one of the agencies featured in the article. He says “They look like Peter, Paul, and Mary”. The agency featured is Wells Rich Greene founded in 1966 by Mary Wells, Dick Rich, and Stewart Greene. WRG went on to be one of the most influential, independent creative agencies in the history of advertising until its acquisition by the French agency BDDP in 1990. WRG was an agency I always wished I had the opportunity to work with but never did.
Roger Goes Rogue
After Pete’s elevator bravado, Bert Cooper approaches Roger with a new business lead and suggests that Roger take it on personally. The account is Manischewitz kosher wines. They agree to bypass the new business committee keeping it between themselves. A risky strategy that is sure to ruffle partner feathers, including Don’s. They know the client would like to expand the brand beyond its ethnic consumer base and appeal to a broader audience. Roger springs into action and his first instinct is to mobilize his Jewish assets by using his charm and cash. Roger pays off his “beautifully semetic” ex-wife Jane to attend the initial client dinner and bribes Ginsberg to secretly develop some ideas he can serve up at dinner. This scenario is classic Roger Sterling account schmoozing complete with the secret agendas and expected Jewish side commentary. Roger asks Bert, “How Jewish are they?” he suggests to the client that they broaden their appeal to “normal” people and directs Ginsberg to develop ideas that are “cheap, of course, but impactful”.
Ginsberg can’t keep it to himself and tells Peggy about it. Peggy rips into Roger accusing him of being disloyal and vents her own frustrations about being underutilized and marginalized at the agency. Peggy reminds Roger that she bailed him out on Mohawk Airlines despite “not being an airplane.” She declares, “ I can write for anything.” None of this moves Roger. All he cares about is bringing the account in and sticking it to Pete. At dinner Roger presents one of Ginsberg’s creative concepts involving advertising on the sides of New York City buses. The client is impressed. Roger is energized and celebrates with some spontaneous sex with his ex in her new apartment. Hopefully the Manischiewtz new business conquest will work out better that did.
Manischiewtz wines did in fact launch a broad adverting campaign in the ‘60s through its licensing arrangement with Brooklyn based Manarch Wines. They introduced the now classic line “Man-O-Manischiewtz What A Wine” and ran television commercials featuring Sammy Davis Jr. The Man-O-Manischiewtz tag line took on an iconic role and the company still uses it today. Here’s a link to the Sammy Davis spot.
Don Finds His Mojo
Joan and Don are reviewing the agency’s work for SCDP’s portfolio and Don notices how much of the recent work has been done by Ginsberg. Joan reassures Don that he is the genius behind it all but this triggers Don’s insecurity about his own creative relevance. Later, Don comes across some of Ginsberg’s creative concepts for a Pepsi frozen beverage named Sno Balls. Pepsi marketed this product in the ‘60s as a “sippin Ice”. Don is impressed with Ginsberg’s ideas and is motivated to his put his creative mind to work on it. Don clearly enjoys riffing his “Sno Balls Chance In Hell” devil concepts into his dicta-phone. The next day when the creative team convenes in Don’s office to review concepts, he floats his idea and they like it. They agree to add Don’s idea to the mix but Ginsberg’s incredulous “this is actually a good idea” praise doesn’t sit well with Don.
Armed with Don’s and Ginsberg’s campaign in the portfolio case, Ken, Harry and Don prep for the meeting in the taxi. This scene has been played out endless times in the advertising business. Bring the work, prep in the cab and get ready for the show. Sometimes all the work that goes into the bag doesn’t always make it out of the bag at the meeting. I’ve been involved in many last minute decisions to leave work “in the bag” but never have left it in the cab. It’s always the creative director’s call, but in this case Don seems to be more motivated by reaffirming his creative chops than which of the two campaigns is strongest. Back at the agency Harry tells the team that Don “pitched the hell out of his idea” and sold it to the client. Ginsberg is crushed when he finds out that Don didn’t present his campaign and confronts Don about it. Don tells Ginsberg to get over it, the idea is sold and explains that it’s a sign of weakness to go in with two campaigns. This is not a way to motivate teams to do great work.
Interestingly, Don’s observation about only showing one campaign was the subject of much discussion in the ‘60s. Today it is standard practice to show the client alternative campaigns. Back in the early days of the creative revolution many agencies believed in only showing one campaign. In 1970 when I joined DDB a number of the creative teams I worked with had this point of view. This attitude set a higher standard for everyone on the account and made for some interesting client meetings. We had no choice but to become very adept at “pitching the hell out of our idea”.
On a lighter side, Betty decides to she her pounds with Weight Watchers which has a special NYC history. Weight Watchers was conceived in 1961 by a woman in Queens, NY and held its first public group meeting as a corporation in 1963. Betty was definitely an early adopter. Ironically the company was sold to one of SCDP’s clients, Heinz, in 1978.
Hope things lighten and brighten up next episode.