We asked a bunch of ad execs whether the industry still behaves like the cast of 'Mad Men' -- yes, some of them still do

If “Mad Men” is anything to go by, working in the ad industry back in the 1960s looked like an awful lot of fun.

There’s the drinking, the sex, the fashionable clothes, the fancy restaurants, the big creative ideas (that often look as though they were made up on the spot), and the exciting inter-office dramas.

The advertising industry would probably like to portray that the darker side of its “Mad Men” history — the alcoholism, misogyny, and bitter rifts between co-workers and competitors — are just that: Legacy of a bygone era.

But what’s it really like? Are there still the three Martini lunches, sex in the supply closet, big macho pitches? With the seventh and final season of “Mad Men” just around the corner, we decided to ask.

Mad men don draper drink

The short answer is yes.

Amir Kassaei, chief creative officer of DDB Worldwide tells us: “Big, wild holiday parties back in the 90s with sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll still stand out. Cannes [the big annual advertising festival and awards show,] for one week every year, is still ‘Mad Men’ at its best. I had a barkeeper at the Martinez Bar tell me that the ad executives drink 10 times the amount of alcohol in one week than the film executives during their week in Cannes.”

We’re not sure if he’s joking, but Steve Red, the partner and chief creative officer at Red Tettemer O’Connell + Partners, tells us that drinking is a way of life for the modern era “Mad Men”: “Martini lunches are for amateurs. Our Kegregator goes 24/7, and I wouldn’t trust an agency without a bar. Industry parties? Yes.”

The episode in season four where the team at Sterling Cooper win a CLIO and disappear for three days is one that “rings true” for, Jared Gutstadt, the CEO and founder of music marketing agency Jingle Punks: “The Jingle Punks work hard but we also celebrate hard too and our appearance at industry events has become nothing short of legendary. We built an Airstream at this year’s SXSW where we took client meetings by day, transforming it into a whiskey bar on wheels by night, smack bang in the heart of downtown Austin.”

However, most of the execs we spoke to said that alcohol intake is mostly reserved for after office hours, not like Draper with his fully-stocked drinks cabinet in his office always readily available to dip into.

How are women treated in advertising now?

Dove Real Beauty CampaignDoveDove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign is an example of how advertising targeting women has changed.

Better. But not well enough.

Leeanne Leahy, president of the VIA Agency, said the industry still has a long way to go: “Today the culture is more tolerant and accepting of women, but it isn’t inviting enough. The industry talks about having women at the helm, and there are more women leading agencies. However, as an industry, we’ve created an environment that is accepting of women’s success but doesn’t actively invite it.”

DDB Worldwide’s Kassaei agrees. “I believe that we still have to work on gender equality in the industry. We need more women as creative leaders,” Kassaei said.

The ads targeting women have taken a more realistic approach, however, according to Lou Aversano, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather New York: “We’ve gone from ads that told women how they could be better wives if they used a certain product to creative work that inspires women to be confident in who they are. Ogilvy’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign for Dove is a great example of this.”

How have those big pitches changed?

They’re still as bombastic as ever. DDB Worldwide’s Kassaei says you still have to “wow” the room.

Tor Myhren, worldwide chief creative officer at Grey, told us: “Pitches haven’t really changed. They’re like our version of the Olympics. You work day and night for weeks or months, all for the chance to get on that high-pressure stage for two hours and sell your idea. They’re competitive as hell, and in my opinion, the best part of the job.”

But Myhren says some of the antics Don Draper pulls in his presentations would be “laughed at” today: “We’re past the whole ‘dramatic delivery’ thing. Just get to your idea, make it relevant, and make it crystal clear. Never mind the drama.”

There’s still an element of Draper, but there’s more sophistication to pitches now, VIA Agency’s Leahy told us. “‘Mad Men’ always showed Don Draper capturing the imagination of a client, which hasn’t changed; our job is still to show them what’s possible. That said, there are more rational components to pitches than there once were. We’re more involved with non-emotional components, such as procurement and the competitive nature of the pitch. Instead of working in a vacuum, we prefer to work with clients when possible.”

And what about the day-to-day? Is it still as high-octane is it looks in “Mad Men?”

19 Mad Men AMCAMC/’Mad Men’Just another day at ‘Mad Men’ agency Sterling Cooper.

“There is no day to day,” RTO+P’s Red says. “It’s more like day and night.”

DDB Worldwide’s Kassaei described his average day: “My day starts at 5am with conference calls to DDB’s Australian and Asian markets. I arrive to the office at 7:30am, but I don’t have time for ‘Mad Men’-style ‘lunch meetings’ or breaks. If I am not in the office, I am flying. Last year, I was on a plane for 300 days out of the year. I am still smoking, but outside the building.”

Not only have days got longer, but they’re more intense, Ogilvy’s Aversano told us: “You have to factor in digital, the use of data, media channels. There are more players and more ideas on the table. We have so many more channels and platforms to consider — so much more than Don Draper and his team had to think about.”

Advertising looked like it was revered as a career back in the 1960s. What are perceptions of the industry like now?

Lou aversanoOgilvy & Mather New YorkLou Aversano, chief executive officer at Ogilvy & Mather New York, even looks a little like Don Draper.

Views here we split down the middle.

We’ll start with the middle. Ogilvy’s Aversano told us: “In some ways, the perception hasn’t changed at all. it is still viewed as an art practiced by the experienced few but in many ways with the advent of digital and the rise of the Super Bowl as advertising’s day in the sun it has become the sport of many. There is far more scrutiny, awareness and thought put into what we do and how we do it.”

VIA Agency’s Leahy said: “Back then, the industry was deemed much more glamorous, like it was covered in fairy dust. It was the rock and roll of the business world. Today, it’s viewed as less sexy … However, companies used to think of advertising as a sales tool; today, they regard advertising as a true strategic imperative for business development. Advertising is now seen as a component for driving business growth, not just communication.”

But with a polar opposite view, Myhren said: “Oddly, despite its horribly depressing plot lines and despicable characters, Mad Men has made advertising sexy again. Go figure.”

RTO+P’s Red added: “People still don’t trust us, but they still want to be us.”

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