How Creative Agencies Have Changed Since Mad Men

Ron Ause
August 1, 2016
2 minute read


Whether they’re actually involved in the industry or not, fans of Mad Men, which aired on AMC between 2007-2015, are well acquainted with the television series’ tendency to fetishize the advertising world of the 1960s. Between the flashy wardrobes, errant relationships, and—shall we say preferred—drinking predilections of its memorable characters, if the show did anything, it made advertising sexy.

Whether or not Don Draper—the show’s creative director of fictional Manhattan advertising firm Sterling Cooper—is rooted in reality or not, the show is inarguably a meditation on the industry’s evolution. And believe us, lots has changed since the glory days of Coca-Cola ads and mid-century modern suits.

The Evolution of Modern Advertising

They say that advertising has existed as far back as 3000 BC. Believe it or not, there was a time in history where humans lived without a constant barrage of advertisements. Before brands began inserting their message into every communication channel imaginable, ads were reserved for utilitarian purposes—soap, flour, canned soup, and the like.

Somewhere in the evolution of mankind, basic human needs were met. And then satisfied. And then saturated. Consumers became inundated with multiple companies, all competing for a few seconds of our precious time to fill their needs (or wants, depending on how you look at it). Suddenly, advertising became an industry of its own.

Fast-forward to the 1950s, the commercial viability of the color television, and the advent of Mad Men-era advertising. Spanning campaigns and concepts as diverse the Marlboro Man, the cola wars, and MTV, the television era spawned some of the industry’s most acclaimed and beloved campaigns.

Rise of the Digital Age

For decades, television was the vehicle of creative consumerism—and Mad Men mystified this medium. That is, until the early 1990s, when a little thing called the Internet was born. In 1993, the World Wide Web became a reality, as 5 million users worldwide get online. And in 1999, Internet advertising broke the $2 billion mark.

In short, the Internet has changed creative agencies since Mad Men. Whether it’s Search Engine Marketing, paid channel marketing, or pay-per-click marketing, the term “online advertising” seems implicit amongst ad professionals, these days. It’s also big business. Digital ad spending worldwide hit $137.53 billion in 2014.

Clearly, paid advertising is effective. While purists may write-off Internet advertising as rented advertisement, it’s also measurable and highly sophisticated in regards to targeting. Unlike Draper’s agencies of the mid-century, modern agencies are able to calculate both long-term and short-term value for how much revenue results from incoming website visits. Furthermore, it’s now possible to target specific demographics for even more effective results.

While Mad Men won viewers hearts with its screenplay and countless witticisms—and countless advertising professionals embodied Draper’s creative hunger—it’s equally exciting to witness today’s ad professionals manipulate a virtual tool that can track, measure, and deliver.

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