Category Archives: Roger Sterling

a tale of two spokespeople

The use of celebrity spokespeople in ad campaigns in lieu of a real idea seems to be on the wane, which is a good thing. Chalk it up to the growing sophistication of the audience, which would rather know what their friends and peers think of a product than a bought and paid for shill.

Still, you see them, and if you watch Mad Men, you see them a lot. Especially John Slattery (Roger Sterling) for Lincoln. On paper (or PowerPoint) this looks like a good choice: guy who used to be dusty, now of the moment; solid Establishment type with a rebellious streak; a guy who you could plausibly see behind the wheel of this car (unlike, say, the crazy-ass choice of Tiger Woods for Buick a few years back).

But what a waste. Basically, they use Slattery as the world’s most expensive extra and hand-model. He has almost no lines. We see him in the distance, in shadow, from behind–like he was in a Witness Protection program, not starring in a TV commercial. Here’s a few examples:

Who is that guy? What is he hiding?

That very tiny man on the left would be Roger.

Underexposure is not Sam Waterston‘s problem in the TD Ameritrade campaign. He is the campaign–him and a big honking logo. No, his problem is that the company’s owner, Joe Ricketts, was revealed to be a batshit-crazy, hate-mongering wingnut. Eager to join such great Americans as the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, Ricketts was ready to open up his checkbook to run a rancid screed linking President Obama to Rev. Wright–a spot so noxious and inflammatory that even Mitt Romney felt compelled to condemn it (after the storyboard was leaked to the New York Times).

In a delicious reversal from the usual order of things, client bad behavior was dinging the spokesperson’s brand rather than the other way around. A brief read of Waterston’s bio suggests that he himself is sane, educated and moderately progressive in his views. And his other advertising activities include work for the Nation. Waterston, obviously recruited to TD Ameritrade as the rock-ribbed symbol of virtue and probity, must have had his lawyers looking closely to see if there was an escape clause in his contract last week. Even in these morally ambivalent times, this cannot be what he signed up for .

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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.