Tribal Worldwide 22squared Partners + Napier

Mad Men finale: Industry leaders from Epsilon, Tribal Worldwide, Campbell Ewald, Organic, and others discuss the show's legacy


By Nesh Pillay, Reporter

May 15, 2015 | 8 min read

After seven seasons, popular show Mad Med is set to air its finale this Sunday.

The AMC original captured the struggles and joys faced by members of the advertising community in the 1960s.

Naturally, many of today's industry leaders saw connections between their lives, and that of the shows protagonist, Don Draper.

Here's what today's Don Drapers have to say about Mad Men's legacy.

Jorge Narváez-Arango, executive creative director, George P. Johnson

Don Draper and company, in my opinion, did two things for the industry: One, it allowed us to reflect on our roots and the legacy of a bygone era, and two, it made it sexy enough to inspire new talent to join the industry.

I think the best thing it did was shed light on a business where the main equity is human emotion; where the big idea remains king. My favorite scene comes early in the series with Don’s off-the-cuff pitch to Lucky Strike. It’s a pitch that captures the magic of the industry aptly; where advertising is the art of evoking emotions.

While Mad Men has been highly entertaining, it focused on an era that no longer reflects what our industry is today. And it makes me thankful for how far both our industry, and we in it, have come. If someone was to produce a series on the agency world today, I would hope it would reflect a very different period where ideas are valued for what they are, not where or who they come from.

Matt Dowshen, president, Partners + Napier NYC

I resisted Mad Men for years. I didn’t want to see some writer’s concocted reflection of my life. When I finally broke down I realized it wasn’t that at all. It was great American fiction. Characters on their search for meaning and happiness as they sift through the social/cultural shifts of a nation; the rise of cynicism in America and American business.

All beautifully told. I don’t think its legacy will be about advertising at all. Its legacy will be good, old fashioned, American storytelling.

Don has an amazing ability to ground any brand in a deeper human truth. To tell a story not of a brand, but why and how people will connect to it. And while I love those moments as a guy in advertising, they are ultimately about Don, and that lost soul’s attempt to find something real in a world of bullsh*t.

John Stapleton, chief creative director, 22squared

My favorite thing that I will truly miss about Mad Men is watching nothing and everything change at the exact same time in this crazy world of advertising.

When it comes to everything changing, that is quite easy to spot – an army of receptionists pounding away at manual typewriters, smoking and drinking all day long in the office, rotary phones being dialed and then slammed down in frustration after a tough call, marker comps of print ads being unveiled with a simple headline…the list goes on.

But at the same time, nothing has changed at all. Art directors and copywriters have the same exact idiosyncrasies today as they did 50-plus years ago. Even project managers and account people have the same quirks and behaviors that can be seen day in and day out. It’s almost as if it’s in our advertising DNA and will always remain. This is the true Mad Men legacy that will be missed – things just will never really change.

John Immesoete, chief creative officer, Epsilon

My lasting impression of Mad Men, and in particular Don Draper, will be that the show and characters captured very specifically what I think is a core trait of successful advertising people; the ability to continually re-shape, re-mold and re-invent themselves, quickly, effectively and continuously.

Don’s case was extreme. He went so far as to change his entire identity. Others do it more subtly. One day we’re experts on fast food, the next on telecommunications, the next on the airline industry, etc. We’re great at broadcast, digital, experiential, and promotional advertising disciplines. We lose battles often but we bounce back and win the war.

Mad Men captured this aspect of advertising and human nature – our desire or need to adapt to not only thrive but survive – perhaps better than any show in history and did it while giving us indelible characters, brilliant production values, and interesting story lines that meticulously weaved together historical fact with fiction.

Rachel Spiegelman, president, Pitch

This is the legacy of Mad Men… We probably first saw it with Betty at the end of Season 3. She left Don, a husband unworthy of her (or her perspective of herself) and married into a situation that seemed to be created in her very own dream store.

And then she got fat. And remained unhappy. And her daughter still hated her. And then, eventually, she stared wistfully at Don and his modern apartment.

We saw it over and over again, and in its most poignant expression when Jim Hobart told our beloved SCDP team to relax. They’re going to love the new world.

In its rich, glamorous and often frustrating way, Matt Weiner and his phenomenal writers room threw a bucket of cold water in America’s face reminding them, and in some cases teaching us all, that getting what you want is never, ever as exciting or fulfilling as wanting it.

Sunny Lee, director of strategy, Organic

The legacy of Mad Men isn’t dependent on what happens to Don, Roger, Joan, Pete or Betty. The truth is that what transpires in the series finale hardly matters because the beauty of the show was never about arriving at a destination or gaining closure.

“If you don’t like what is being said,” Don told Peggy back in Season 1, “then change the conversation.”

Creator Matt Weiner took a snapshot of the lives of these characters through the lens of the Eisenhower years, rife with moral conflicts, cultural moments, and three-martini lunches. In doing so, he made a commentary about the different changes that happen in life: those we voluntarily make to reinvent ourselves, the inevitable changes imposed on us, and the changing of the times and all that it brings with it.

Its legacy is that it gave us all something to compare ourselves to, an inflection point frozen in time.

Mark Simon, chief creative officer, Campbell Ewald

My first favorite episode of “Mad Men” is when Don pitches the carousel slide projector to Eastman Kodak. ‘This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine.’ Brilliant. My second favorite episode is when the switchboard operator runs over Guy MacKendrick’s foot with a John Deere riding mower.

Joan’s line at the end perfectly captures life in advertising, ‘One minute you’re on top of the world. The next, some secretary’s running you over with a lawnmower.’ I drove a Segway into a presentation once, crashed into a wall and ran over the Account Director’s foot. Fortunately no toes were lost in the process.

Rich Guest, president of North American operations, Tribal Worldwide NY

Mad Men has undoubtedly influenced pop culture — from our cocktails to our clothes — for the past eight years. Although, probably not enough that a man would dress in a shirt and jacket before greeting his late night visitor! And, certainly, any influence on pop culture is fleeting.

I would argue that the real business legacies of Mad Men are proving that American audiences will embrace artful and thoughtful dramas, demonstrating that great story telling is not the exclusive domain of HBO, and allowing networks to extend the life of shows by splitting seasons over multiple calendar years.

But, after 91 episodes, the series finale still has a wonderful opportunity to define the legacy of Mad Men’s story and its overriding themes: Is modern American life really all about a fatalistic pursuit of material possessions? Can deeply flawed people discover that “the best things in life are free?"

I’ll be watching on Sunday to see where things land.

Tribal Worldwide 22squared Partners + Napier

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