Category Archives: Mad Men

Welcome to the Machine

Us, and them 

and after all, we’re only ordinary men

–Pink Floyd, “Dark Side of the Moon”

Well, it’s not as exciting as Megan tidying up the ruins of last night’s party in her undies, but the scene in last night’s “Mad Men” season premier in which Don failed to go to bat for Peggy’s Heinz creative work certainly got my attention.

First: good for Peggy to try to do something other than the expected bite-and-smile formula for a food product.

But shame on her for substituting a technique (high-speed macrophotography) for an idea, which the dancing bean campaign conspicuously lacked.

And shame on Don, who was too busy thinking about Megan’s undies the new airline account, for not killing it before the client meeting.

Be that as it may, Peggy had her selling shoes on in front of the Pittsburgh posse, to little avail. Don’s lame “I hope you’re as excited about this work as we are” line as he arrives late to the meeting does nothing to change that. And when the Heinz guys begin the death-by-a-thousand-cuts, Don’s silence is deafening—and infuriating to Peggy.

Peggy, Peggy, Peggy….welcome to the machine. Don used to be Us. Now he’s Them—agency management that looks at Heinz and sees a mortgage payment, not an idea-killer. Don’s not building his portfolio anymore…he’s buying snow-white wall to wall carpeting to zooba-zooba on.

Peggy doesn’t know it, but she’s in the sweet spot of her career: as a creative supervisor, she’s senior enough to make an impact, work on the best briefs (letting Megan do the coupons), and see them through to presentation. Yet she can remain pure. She has no payrolls to meet, no office rent to pay, no client CEO to answer to (at least directly).

In modern big-agency hierarchy, this sweet spot lasts approximately through Group Creative Director level. Once Executive or—God forbid—Chief becomes part of your title, the dancing beans go back in the can and life becomes much more complicated. Yes you make more money. Yes you have more power.

But you have Peggy’s eyes, bright with fury and disappointment, boring into you.

Thanks for the support, asshole.

Tagged ,

Santa or else.


The haze of liquor and cigarette smoke that hangs langorously over Mad Men doesn’t obscure the piercing truths about our business that still have the capacity to hurt.

Last week’s episode, when the Lucky Strike client Lee Garner, a good ol’ boy and closeted homosexual (he had Sal fired in Season 3 when his advances were rebuffed) forced Roger to put on the Santa suit at the office Christmas party, it tore at my heart.

In a beauifully nuanced escalation, the client went from jovial “suggestion” to more insistent request to a chilling command. And it was made all the worse by playing out in front of the entire staff.

And by the fact that it was Roger.

Choosing Pete would have meant nothing. Steeped in self-loathing, Pete would have seen donning the Santa suit as an escape from himself, not to mention a career-enhancer.

Don? Wasn’t gonna happen. And Lee knew it.

Burt Cooper? He already plays the jovial fool.

No…to exert maximum authority and to inflict maximum pain, the client chose Roger…elegant, patrician, unflappable Roger. Roger, whose ties to American Tobacco go back a generation on either side. Roger, whose inherited relationship occasionally lulls him into believing he is something other than a vendor.

Put on the suit, Roger. Put it on so I can remind you of exactly where you stand in the order of things. Put it on for your wife, your partners and all the employees with their stricken expressions to see.

As I sat there and watched in sick fascination, my wife turned to me and asked if anything like that ever happened to me and my partners.

A highlight reel of slights and humiliations, verbal cuffings and inappropriate demands unspooled through my head.

Not that overtly, I said. But do some clients look for and exploit opportunities to make us choose between our dignity and our paycheck? Yes.

We may just have to put on the beard, or carry the sack, or bellow “Ho, ho, ho,” but it’s putting on the Santa suit, it’s still uncomfortable, and the alternative, the unspoken “or else” is still terrifying in its unknowability.