Did people really have sex in the office? Did they actually drink martinis at 11am? And what was it really like for women working on Madison Avenue in the 1960s? Jane Maas, a successful copywriter for a New York ad agency in the 60s and 70s, answers all these questions and more in this tell-all account of life with the real Mad Men. Based on her own experiences, she tells of the junior account man whose wife nearly left him when she found the copy of "Screw" magazine he'd used to find 'entertainment' for a client. Then there is the Ogilvy and Mather agency's legendary annual sex-and-booze filled Boat Ride, from which it was said no virgin ever returned intact. And the advertising agency that banned doors on offices - all because of what went on behind them. Wickedly funny and full of fascinating inside information, "Mad Women" also deals with the tougher issues of the era, such as equal pay, jaw-dropping sexism, and the difficult choices women had to make between motherhood and a career. This immensely entertaining memoir is a must-read for fans of the show, and for anyone who enjoys a scintillating tale.
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JANE MAAS began her career at Ogilvy & Mather as a copywriter in 1964 and rose to become a creative director and agency officer. Ultimately, she became president of a New York agency. A Matrix Award winner and an Advertising Woman of the Year, she is best known for her direction of the "I Love New York" campaign. She is the author of Adventures of an Advertising Woman and co-author of the classic How to Advertise, which has been translated into seventeen languages.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :
A Day on Madison Avenue, 1967
“Was it really like that?”
As soon as people find out I actually worked at an advertising agency in the Mad Men era, they pepper me with questions. “Was there really that much drinking?” “Were women really treated that badly?” And then they lean in and ask confidentially: “Was there really that much sex?”
The answer is yes. And no. Mad Men gets a lot of things right, but it gets some things wrong, too. So I thought I’d give you a typical day in my life on Madison Avenue in 1967, three years after I began working at Ogilvy & Mather as a copywriter.
* * *
6:30 A.M. My husband, Michael, brings a cup of coffee to me in bed. It’s a morning ritual and one of the many caring things he does for me. I know not many wives are so cosseted. “Don’t ever mention this when we’re with people from my office,” he cautions me. “They’ll think I’m henpecked.”
He’s not. We have a wonderful marriage—and a sexy one.
Michael is a former Marine Corps officer, crisply handsome, with just a bit of gray starting to show in his black hair. He attributes a recent promotion at his architectural firm to this premature streaking; he’s now in charge of all building plans for New York Telephone, his firm’s most important client. He stands beside the bed, already dressed in a blue Brooks Brothers suit, a white shirt (cuffs showing), and a bow tie. (Architects usually favor bow ties because they don’t swing over drawings and smudge them.)
“You look very nice. Going to the office this early?”
“I’m inspecting a site on Staten Island. Want to meet for a drink after work?”
I light a cigarette, the first of the day. “Don’t think I can. We’re going to have casting calls all afternoon and I may not be able to leave by five.”
“Well, try to be home in time for dinner. The girls miss you when you’re not here.” He bends down and kisses me. “So do I. Have a good day, Mops.”
Mops is the family nickname for me. It’s a shortened form of Mopsy, one of the rabbits in the Beatrix Potter nursery tales. Michael gave me the name when Kate was born. His mother read him the tales when he was a little boy, and I think he remembered incorrectly that Mopsy was the mother rabbit. It sounds like a maternal kind of name. I don’t remember what the mother’s name really was, but she was a good mother. I don’t think I am. My priorities are job first, husband second, children third. It’s the only way for a woman to survive in the advertising business. And in the marriage business.
I have a second cigarette with my coffee, then get up and check on my children. Kate, age eight, is in her room getting dressed in her Nightingale-Bamford school uniform: blue jumper, white short-sleeved blouse, and knee-high socks. She is a real moppet, blond and blue-eyed, quiet, introspective. In the next bedroom, Mabel, our live-in housekeeper, is supervising four-year-old Jenny. Jen is Kate’s polar opposite: brown-haired, brown-eyed, noisy, exuberant. Mabel asks if I can drop Kate at Nightingale while she takes Jen to nursery school.
I have a second cup of coffee and another cigarette; I’ve already lost count.
* * *
8:15 A.M. I walk with Kate the few blocks from our apartment at 4 East Ninety-fifth Street to her school on Ninety-second Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues.
Kate reminds me that the school fashion show is at two o’clock today. “Are you coming to see me, Mommy?” I know that Kate is one of only a handful of girls chosen to show off fashions for the school fair. The outfits the girls will wear onstage today will be sold at the Clotheshorse Booth tomorrow. It’s a big deal for her, but I have a full day ahead of me at the office. “I don’t think I can, darling. We have a ton of meetings today.”
Kate is used to this. She is disappointed, but she doesn’t protest. “I’ll try,” I offer. It doesn’t sound convincing to Kate, who just keeps walking, her head down. It doesn’t even sound convincing to me. But we’re casting the Dove-for-Dishes commercial this afternoon. I have to be there.
We arrive at Nightingale-Bamford, one of the top girls’ schools in the city. I kiss Kate good-bye and watch her walk up the stairs to the landing, where the headmistress is greeting the girls, as she does every morning. Kate curtsys, as is the custom, she and the headmistress shake hands, as is also the custom, and she goes inside. I get on the Fifth Avenue bus and head downtown.
The Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency, where I am a copy supervisor, is at Forty-eighth Street and Fifth Avenue, convenient to Saks and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, depending on whether you want to shop or pray. And within easy walking distance of Grand Central for the blue-blooded account guys (and they are all guys) who commute to Westport and environs.
There’s a coffee shop next door to the office, and I stop in to pick up a cup. I’m at the front of the long line waiting to pay, and I spot an art director who works for me at the tail end. “Go on up, Doug. I’ll get this.” He motions his thanks. The male cashier beams at me. “Well, aren’t you the nice little secretary to buy coffee for your boss. Hope he appreciates you.”
Another day on Madison Avenue.
* * *
9:15 A.M. Everyone in the Gene Grayson creative group is here in their offices, except for Gene Grayson. He’s the boss, so it’s okay for him to come in later. The group consists of three copywriters, an art director, a television producer, a secretary, and me. I’m a copywriter, but I also supervise the others. We are housed along a corridor on the seventh floor. The writers and art director have small, windowless offices; the producer and I have slightly larger offices with one window; the secretary sits at a desk in the middle of the hallway. Gene, as copy group head, properly has the largest office of all, with two windows. As a vice president, he even rates a couch.
There’s a reason why we have four writers and only one art director. This art director represents one of this agency’s first tentative forays into the new “teamwork” school of creativity, where copywriters and art directors come up with the ideas together. Normally at Ogilvy & Mather, it’s the writers who think up the television spots, then type the scripts and hand them over to the sketch men. We writers type the preliminary scripts on cheap yellow paper known as “copywriter roughs.” The yellow paper is an old advertising tradition; it is supposed to signal to the writer that this is merely a rough draft so you can relax and be as creative as you like. I always wonder, though, why the paper is yellow, the color of cowardice.
We have some wonderful artists who sketch the visuals for the print ads or storyboards that we show our clients. One of our artists draws so charmingly that we all vie to have him do our storyboards; the clients usually okay them immediately. A client complained to me recently that the dog in the finished commercial wasn’t grinning the way Wes had drawn him in the storyboard.
However, the new Doyle Dane Bernbach “team approach” is beginning to catch on at some of the smaller, less traditional agencies. Bill Bernbach decreed that at his agency, copywriters and art directors must work together on all advertising—even radio scripts. We hear that at DDB some art directors can’t even draw. Imagine.
Our group has a lot of good writers. Scholarly, poetic Marianne, who has written sonnets about Good Seasons salad dressing and an ode to Milky Way. Pert, miniskirted Linda, who works on Maxim coffee. Witty Peter, who writes pornography in his spare time. Although Gene has promoted me to supervisor, I continue to write on all the accounts in our group.
We have several women writers because we work on “packaged goods”—the kind of products you find on supermarket shelves; the kind of products women are allowed to write ads for, like Dove soap, Drano, and Vanish toilet bowl cleaner. Down the hall, a creative group works on Mercedes-Benz; it is all male. One floor above us, another creative group handles the American Express card—all male. Only men are considered good enough to work on luxury accounts like Steuben Glass or liquor accounts like Rums of Puerto Rico. I’m told that at a rival agency, the chief copywriter on Kotex is a guy.
In addition to Peter, there are two other men in our group. Doug, the art director, represents the “new school.” He doesn’t draw all that well, but he’s great at coming up with ideas. I’m not at all sure I like the new wave, though; I kind of preferred doing it all myself. Ken is our television producer, a silver-haired Brit who makes filming a commercial a wonderful experience. He believes that the talent performing in the spots and the creative people should travel first-class. With Ken, it was champagne and limousines all the way. I loved it, until he tried to seduce me late one night in the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
* * *
9:30 A.M. My boss, copy group head Gene Grayson, arrives. (Officially, he is Eugene Debs Grayson; his parents named him in honor of the American Socialist.) Gene is intense, bearded, a brilliant advertising man. When he offered me the job at Ogilvy three years ago, at first I turned him down because I got cold feet about working as a copywriter when I didn’t quite know what a copywriter did. “Listen, you little redheaded fink,” he yelled at me over the phone, “come work for me and learn what advertising is all about. You may even write an ad someday.” I capitulated.
There are several schools of advertising right now. There’s the Doyle Dane school: tell it like it is, avoid hyperbole, have a little fun with the products. Ads like “Think small” for Volkswagen. “You don’t have to be Jewish to like Levy’s Jewish rye,” for a bakery in Brooklyn, with ads that feature an Irish cop, an American Indian, a little Chinese boy. “We’re only #2. We try harder” for Avis.
There’s the David Ogilvy school: persuasive ads that often have long headlines and a lot of copy, packed with facts. D.O. is very proud of the first ad he wrote as the head of his tiny new agency. It was for Guinness Stout, and described in loving detail nine varieties of oyster that “taste their best when washed down with drafts of Guinness.” He brags about using 3,242 words in an ad for the World Wildlife Fund.
And there’s the Ted Bates school: hard-hitting, hard-sell advertising that drives the message home with powerful visuals and taglines repeated over and over. Hammers pounding on an animated head for Anacin; stomach acid bursting into flames for Tums. When people talk about how irritating advertising can be, it’s usually this kind of work they have in mind.
Gene Grayson is a school unto himself. He specializes in mnemonic devices—usually a visual effect that helps the consumer remember your brand and what it stands for. For Maxim freeze-dried coffee he created the slogan “Turns every cup in your house into a percolator.” A hand spoons in the Maxim, pours boiling water over the crystals, and stirs. Music sounds, the cup shimmers before your eyes, and—eureka!—the cup is suddenly transformed into a coffeepot, sitting there on your saucer. For Dove-for-Dishes, the campaign line is “I could have sworn I saw a dove fly into Mrs. So-and-So’s window.” The dove lands on the sink; there is a pinging sound, a flash of light, and—shazam!—the bird turns into a bottle of dishwashing liquid.
Now Gene stands at my office door, asking if I’m ready to leave for a meeting. Today is a big day for the agency and especially for me. The new president of our agency, Jim Heekin, has won a piece of business from Clairol. We are the only agency to chip away at the iron grip that Foote, Cone & Belding has had on the business for a zillion years. Our assignment: figure out the positioning and do the creative work for a new hair-coloring product. Heekin wanted the account assigned to Gene’s group because he likes the commercials I have been writing for Dove-for-Dishes and wanted me. Am I ready? Never more so.
In the lobby of 2 East Forty-eighth Street, we meet Heekin and the account man who will supervise the Clairol business. There are only three women in account management in all of Ogilvy—all are lowly assistant account executives; all work on General Foods business. None is assigned to Clairol; it simply didn’t occur to anyone.
At Clairol, the brand group for the new product greets us warmly. There are no women in brand management at Clairol, a company whose products are made exclusively for women. We gather around a big conference table, the nine men and I, everybody lights a cigarette, and we begin. The project is so hush-hush that all of us from the agency have already signed confidentiality agreements.
The brand manager explains that today’s meeting will be a short one, because the next step is for the agency’s creative team to attend Clairol’s hair-coloring academy to learn how to apply the product. He directs his next remark straight to me. “That’s lovely red hair.” I thank him. The Bergdorf beauty salon turned me into a redhead five years ago, but nobody at the agency knows that. The tagline for Clairol is “Does she … or doesn’t she?” Coloring your hair was a topic even more personal than your sex life.
“A very lovely color,” the brand manager persists.
Oh God, I think. He knows. “Thank you,” I say again, lamely. There is a long silence. He is waiting. “It’s Miss Clairol,” I confess. And blush to my brown roots. My three agency colleagues look at me in astonishment. Jim Heekin, ever debonair, recovers first. “Why, Jane, how wonderful that you are using our client’s product. And we never knew it.” Gene Grayson looks at me with reproach; he will never again be able to call me a redheaded fink. The account man is shocked into silence. He is a conservative, serious, Bible-reading nondrinker, nonsmoker. He just gapes at me, the scarlet woman. The client, satisfied, beams at me.
* * *
11:30 A.M. Back at the agency, Gene asks if I am covering the casting auditions for my Dove commercial. All commercials are given names, and this one is called “Cupcake.” It’s a slice of life that opens with a youngish mother handing out cupcakes to her brood. A dove flies past her and into her neighbor’s kitchen window. The mother bursts into the kitchen (in my Dove commercials, nobody ever knocks or rings a doorbell; they just rush in) and sees that damn bird turn into a bottle of dish soap. The neighbor declares that Dove keeps your hands soft and smooth, but the mother is doubtful. “With six kids and these dry hands, I need a miracle,” she replies. By the end of the commercial, she is won over. “This Dove-for-Dishes is a miracle. I hope it comes in the giant economy size.” The lawyers at Lever Brothers had trouble with that last line. They pointed out that there wasn’t any “giant economy size” Dove bottle, so we couldn’t refer to it. I argued that the mother in the commercial isn’t stating a fact; she’s simply expressing a hope. The lawyers backed down.
It’s easy for me to write slices of life because I know how Americans talk. Before becoming an advertising copywriter, I was an associate producer for the quiz show Name That Tune. My job: interview the contestants and write their “spontaneous” dialogue with the master of ceremonies. Here’s a sample. Emcee to Kansas Farmer’s Wife: “What did your neighbors think about your being on our show?” Farmer’s Wife: “George, there hasn’t been th...
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