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Published on September 22nd, 2010 | by Éilish Burke


Ad Nauseam: Mad for Mad Men

Mad Men is one of those TV shows that are adored by critics but generally ignored by the masses. Kinda like The Wire or Freaks and Geeks. People who love these kind of series will generally bend your ear endlessly about how amazing they are and how watching them will literally change your life (I’ve seen David O’Doherty add this to his Beef 2010 song once to great effect). I know, because I am one of those annoying people. I love, love, love Mad Men and have been watching it since it started about 3 years ago, when it was scheduled at some godawful hour on a Sunday night on BBC3. I did wonder if that was why the show has never garnered a mainstream audience, because it has always been banished to the farthest fringes of late prime time. But then I asked someone who works in TV about this and they explained that no, it’s just that nobody would watch it even if it were on at 9.30 on a Monday night. People prefer to watch Glee and Desperate Housewives apparently.

Now this is not to say that Mad Men doesn’t get its fair share of media exposure. In fact, if you were to go by the press coverage of the show alone you’d think its ratings were through the roof. But that’s because a disproportionate amount of the people who like Mad Men are media types who see, or at least would very much like to see themselves reflected in the polished mahogany drinks cabinets of the Sterling Cooper offices. And people like looking at their reflections, especially when the image thrown back is as beautifully stylised as it is in the world of early 1960s Madison Avenue. Oh, for the glory days of indoor smoking, hard drinking and racism! When men were men and women sat prettily at typewriters and wore pencil skirts. And the work? Well, the work all hinged on one brilliant mind; as long as that mind wasn’t addled with scotch or the prospect of bedding his third lady of the day.


In fact, the depiction of the creative process in Mad Men is probably the one thing about the series which I’ve never fully bought. We’re expected to believe that Don Draper is a genius, but given no real reason for it. The only time I feel it was done convincingly was here in the first season finale. In it Don actually gets under the skin of the product, comes out with a unique and powerful insight and pitches it compellingly to the client.

Sorry all – no embeddable videos for this exist – check it out on YouTube!

In any case, Mad Men’s influence has extended beyond those who actually watch the show and has ignited public interest in the advertising business. During the week, the BBC aired a repeat of their analysis of the ad game in London, the city which stole the throne from New York in the 1970s for creative excellence (nowadays ‘new world’ cities such as Sao Paulo and Melbourne are also considered significant hubs of advertising talent). The documentary is called The Rise and Fall of the Ad Man, it charts the changes in agency focus, structure and politics over the past century and is well worth a watch if you have access to / can manage to hack the BBC iPlayer. RTE made a similar programme, which was rather unimaginatively titled Ireland’s Mad Men. I’m sorry to say I never watched and has now been removed from the RTE player.

Though a dramatised depiction of the ad game I’m sure agencies like Sterling Cooper (or Sterling Cooper Draper Price if you’ve got that far) existed on Madison Avenue in 1965. These days, however, life in agencies is a little more like this:

P.S. I’d like to wish the very best of luck to a good friend and ex-colleague of mine who has landed herself a great job in the prestigious London agency Rainey Kelly. Congratulations Neasa!

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About the Author

Éilish writes the Ad Nauseam series of posts for Culch.ie as well as some other bit and bobs. She used to work in adland and still likes to dissect the advertising she comes across, though these days mainly from the comfort of her couch and in the form of angry tirades while her flatmate rolls her eyes to heaven. She secretly harbours smug feelings that instead of saving and putting a deposit on a house she spent all her life savings on extravagant holidays and has therefore escaped a lifetime in negative equity. She co-runs a company called Amp Music Marketing. You can get in touch with her at eilishburke{at}gmail{dot}com or follow her on Twitter.

8 Responses to Ad Nauseam: Mad for Mad Men

  1. Graham says:

    Is Mad Men generally ignored by the masses? In the US, The Sopranos began at 3.5 million and after six seasons had grown to 8.5 million. Mad Men began at 1 million and after four series has grown to 3 million. So, for the sake of argument, it’s nearly half as popular as the Sopranos. You’re definitely right about media types masturbating over Mad Men and the amount of press it gets inflating as a result – but I don’t buy into the idea that it doesn’t flourish in a primetime slot. That’s just unimaginative TV executives who have been staring at the numbers too long. The success of Desperate Housewives (which incidentally has dropped from 24 to 14 million) should inspire them to push Mad Men.

  2. When I said ‘masses’ I meant audiences of the Glee / Desperate Housewives / Lost scale. I would LOVE to see MM in a primetime slot, but the stats don’t lie and the execs will always follow the stats. In TV, I guess, sometimes overestimating the audience willingness to invest in a slow burner doesn’t pay.

  3. Bngr says:

    I watched up to the end of S3, loved S1, iffy on S2 & hated S3, found it beyond gratuitously negative. For all the OTT plaudits it gets for being genuine and intelligent, there’s no reality to the disgusting level of oppression, amorality, depression, mysogany, and lack of compassion, friendship or comradery in Mad Men. I heard it gets less Lord of the Flies in S4 but its too late, they’ve lost me. I’m not a glee or DH fan but I would take happy + brainless over intelligent + morbid anyday.

    That RTE mad men documentary was just alright, not much to it.

  4. I agree on S3 Bngr – it was becoming a bit depressing but I can’t believe you’re not excited to watch S4 given what happened in the last episode of S3. It has definitely picked up again – some of the episodes will blow you away. And there’s the beginnings of redemption for Don towards the end of the season.

  5. Graham says:

    Original Mad Man George Lois is at Offset this weekend Éilish

  6. If I could afford the ridiculous entrance fee to Offset I’d be going but sadly I’m way too broke :'(

  7. Graham Jones says:

    Sky have now liberated Mad Men from the BBC while also purchasing UK rights to the entire HBO catalogue.

    “Unlike other broadcasters SKY won’t hide these series in the twilight hours,” they said yesterday. “We feel incredibly proud of this content and feel priveleged to air it in peak time.”

    Don’t normally like SKY much, but agree with them on this.

  8. omg HBO-a-licious. Is the new Sky ‘Atlantic’ channel I’ve heard talk about? I hope it comes with the basic Sky packages cos can’t afford an upgrade.

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