When I tell someone I’m studying advertising in graduate school, nine times out of ten they’ll excitedly ask, “Like Mad Men?” And if they don’t automatically make the connection and aren’t sure what I do all day, I ask if they’ve ever seen Mad Men. It’s a vicious cycle.
I have to confess, I didn’t watch the entire show until halfway through Bootcamp, when I realized I was missing most of the references made by my classmates and friends. Newhouse is the top communications school because classes are taught by industry professionals, and if they’re Mad Men-obsessed, it must be for a reason.
Now that the semester is winding down and deadlines are quickly approaching for all of our projects, we find ourselves putting together everything we’ve learned so far to create the best possible pitches and decks. There’s something I learned: a deck is a fancy advertising word for a slideshow. As the stress gets to us, we joke about how we wish our lives were a little bit more like Mad Men – how a secretary to bring us breakfast and answer our emails would be great, how wearing a suit makes you feel important even if you’re having a terrible day.
When we acquired a major beer brand as a client in our media planning class, we found ourselves cracking open cold bottles at 9:30 in the morning. Not quite straight whiskey a la Sterling Cooper, but we still felt pretty cool. The offices in the show do more partying hard than working hard, and the Newhouse idea of partying hard has evolved into a Funk n’ Waffles or Chipotle break after spending hours compiling research.
When we rehearse presentations, we try our best to emulate Don Draper’s emotionally charged introductory anecdotes, even though our class has yet to be moved to tears by a PowerPoint. However, the P&G “Thank You, Mom” Olympic campaign gets us every time, much to the dismay of one Professor Ed Russell. Personally, I’m grateful the industry dress code has shifted from a three piece suit with a pack of cigarettes in the pocket to “nice jeans,” even if the standard working hours remain hectic as ever.
Obviously, Mad Men won awards for its phenomenal cast (and tear-jerking soundtrack), but the accuracy with which it portrayed the golden age of advertising deserves recognition as well. Although the industry has made tremendous strides in terms of gender and racial equality since the fifties, we still have a lot of work to do. We joke that Newhouse is filled with estrogen but I’m excited to sit in class every day with tough, brilliant women who are going to change this industry, and not by working as secretaries and marrying their bosses. Sorry for the spoiler.