Sunday, April 22, 2012

Looking in on Mad Men.

         I decided to watch another back episode of "Mad Men". It wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be. No craziness of the kind I remember. But then again, they weren't one of the good agencies.

         As the executives poured out of the elevator, one of them mentioned "David Ogilvy's new book". It was called "Confessions of an Advertising Man". (Leo Burnett's book had been called "Communications of an Advertising Man", but David always had to be more provocative.)

         "Confessions" had jump-started my career when it came out. I had recently accepted a job in Detroit, and bought the book at Doubleday's as soon as I read about it in Advertising Age. 

          The book itself was a study in branding. The design was beautiful. You knew you were holding something valuable in your hands. The typeface was perfectly chosen to say quality. The paper stock doubled down on the same thing. The paper cover  unfolded to reveal a large selection of the agency's ads. 

          At the time I was taking the bus from my home in Huntington Woods to my office in the General Motors Building. It took about 35 minutes, and I poured over every word about David Ogilvy's training as a chef in Paris, his work for Gallup Research in New York, and his idea to partner with his cousin in London to start an advertising agency on Madison Avenue. Ogilvy, Benson and Mather (now simply Ogilvy) became known for its researched-based work, and later for its very visible campaigns for Schweppes, Rolls Royce, and Hathaway shirts.

         The main thing I got out of Ogilvy's book was a deep sense of professionalism. Advertising is not hucksterism. It has an economic reason for being. Like any other profession, it could be done well or poorly, and here in black and white is what the world of advertising is like if you do it well.

          "Confessions of an Advertising Man" has been reissued in paperback. It's one of what I consider the three great texts of contemporary advertising, along with Burnett's book and the beautiful "Bill Bernbach's Book", written by Bob Levinson.

          Read all three and you're bound to be a better ad person than Don Draper.


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