The Golden Age of Advertising

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Last night I caught an interesting show on PBS about advertising’s so-called “golden age.” According to agency veteran Jerry Della Femina, Don Draper and his fictional Mad Men were swingers lite. The made-up exploits from TV couldn’t hold a candle to the true-life debauchery that hot, creative shops like Della Femina enjoyed in the 1970s into the 1980s.

Spoken from the horse’s mouth. Jerry let it all hang out, and the retelling made for an hour of good TV.

I once took a course at The New School that was run by a guy who worked as an art director for Chiat-Day. He was smart, funny and a tad Napoleonic. Sal told you exactly what worked, and what sucked. If he didn’t like your work, he wasn’t too genteel to rip your sucky ad from the bulletin board and chuck it out the window.

This was how you learned in Sal’s classroom, with ads and push-pins flying. The streets of Greenwich Village were littered with bad ads.

I enjoyed the experience. Good teacher, good guy.

Chiat was one of the edgiest, most creative ad shops. You probably already know, but I’ll remind you anyway, that Chiat-Day was responsible for the legendary “1984” ad that introduced the Macintosh.

In NY, you can learn from the best.

Back in the golden age advertising was sexier, a tad more sexist and everybody experimented with pushing limits.

People still smoked and drank on TV. Women admitted to having abortions. Political correctness hardly existed. Remember: this was the era of “All in The Family,” a show you couldn’t dream of producing now.

We all edit ourselves now, to extremes. People have gotten extremely sensitive about everything related to race, gender, religion, politics, what have you.

The Mad Men era was also the golden age of branding. Due to the expense, true branding in those days was limited to large companies with deep pockets. It took millions in media buys to really get your brand out there and embedded in the public’s mind.

But, whatever. It worked. We remember many of these campaigns decades later because they were fun and so distinctive (“That’s a spicy meat-a-ball!”).

The Mad Man era was also an industry-wide seismic shift. These daring guys and gals and their erasable white boards changed everything.

Advertising’s golden era freed the ad industry from stodgy white-shoe practitioners — in favor of off-kilter mad men and women. They originated breakout advertising which is responsible for the indelible images in our minds.

The ad industry has evolved again, and it’s in our interests that we keep up. The digital age, and social media in particular, is the latest seismic shift.

People usually hate change. But sometimes change is good!

The Internet has freed us from the large budget shackles of TV, radio and print ads. These analog campaigns of the past were time- and money-suckers, and limited to the big-time players. It’s currently possible, in fact easy, to create an ad campaign and market it to millions with a budget that totals less than a dinner for four at Applebee’s (including drinks and a tip).

How cool is that? The Internet is the great democratizer, and now anybody can be a media big shot.

Need an ad? Let’s do something. CLICK HERE and get your copy on.

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