Minneapolis marketers remark on the television show's accuracy and recall an era's challenges amid optimism.
(L-R) Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse) and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) - Mad Men - Season 5 - Gallery - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels/AMC
The season finale of "Mad Men" runs Sunday night. Next Thursday, some who came of professional age during "Mad Men's" midcentury era will be at an Advertising Federation "Mad Men and Women of Minneapolis" event.
It'll be at a place that would make Don Draper, the award-winning show's key character, comfortable: A bar and restaurant, Solera, in downtown Minneapolis.
If they're anything like Draper, they'll likely have a drink. Or two. But unlike "Mad Men," those who want a smoke will need to step outside.
The ubiquitous cigarette is just one of the touches that "Mad Men" gets right, according to three marketers who made their mark in the 1960s.
"There was a lot of smoking," said Fred Webber, who worked at BBDO, Knox Reeves and Martin Williams during the decade. "And heavens, do I miss it," he said, laughing.
The smoking culture outlasted the '60s, however: When I started at ad agency Campbell Mithun in 1984, I didn't yet have a computer, but I was issued an ashtray.
As for the drinking, all three said it was mostly in bars, not offices. And yet, often, "You couldn't have a meeting in the afternoon because they drank so heavily at lunch," said Lee Lynch, who cofounded Carmichael Lynch in 1962.
But each independently offered that if "Mad Men" gets the vices right, it misses the virtues. The local mad men and women were never as angry as the show's tortured souls.
"The biggest wrong is that it never captures the fun of that era," said Webber. "We just had a heckuva time."
Of course, not all was fun and games, especially for African-Americans, women and others, which has been one of the key themes of "Mad Men" this season. Sharon Soike, who worked at BBDO, recalled a program that would pay men $100 when their wives gave birth.
But once women entered the workforce and asked for the same benefit when they had a baby, the program was discontinued. Early on, "The only people who seemed to make it were female art directors and female writers," Lynch recalled. "Otherwise, it was as chauvinistic as you can possibly imagine."
Indeed, as also chronicled in "Mad Men," for all the midcentury modernism, the industry wasn't very current when it came to the social movements that defined the decade's later years.
"We were fast followers," said Webber, who added that advertising "may have been blamed for starting things," but was often restrained by conservative clients, who "weren't resistant to social change, but weren't promoting it at the time."
"Mad Men" nostalgia has mostly focused on style, especially how the sharp suits compare to today's casual culture. Or the low-tech lifestyle, in which a phone rings, is unanswered, and somehow everyone survives.
But beneath the stylistic surface, maybe what's most missing is "Mad Men's" era of possibility. Sure, the characters are individually cynical. But the times themselves are portrayed as far less so. There's the theme of invention.
Of Don Draper himself, sure. But also of a postwar society where the sky (or, more accurately, the moon) was the limit.
Indeed, "Mad Men's" power is much more than the sleek, midcentury modern style. It's the modern, confident nation, which looks refreshingly earnest compared to the postmodern irony of today's societal zeitgeist.
"We may have been silent," Webber said, speaking of the era's so-called Silent Generation. "But I think we were very observant. We had been through the post-World War II building, and we were a pretty optimistic bunch. At the time it was just go-go-go. Sure, we questioned things, but we were living in an age when almost anything was possible for us."
Soike recalled BBDO's CEO, Minneapolitan Tom Dillon (a former Minneapolis Tribune reporter), writing a "wonderful and very optimistic" book called "Freedom Must Advertise." Today, "Freedom Must Advertise" would likely be a late-night comic's punch line about campaign spending.
"Winning the big war, and moving through the prosperity of the '50s and rolling into the '60s," is how Lynch remembers it. That is, "until we realized in '68 what a terrible war we were in. And I think that's when our national optimism faded, and it has not come back since."
Fans will find out if "Mad Men" gets that right on Sunday, as well as next season. Because in "Mad Men's" chronology, last Sunday's penultimate episode happened in the winter of 1967.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.