Ron Simon

Curator, Television and Radio

July 27, 2010

Don Draper Meets the Creative Revolution

by Ron Simon

When we first met Don Draper in Mad Men's Season One, he was clueless about the insurgent forces transforming the advertising business. He and his colleagues sneered at "Think Small" campaign for Volkswagen: "I don't know what I hate about it the most, the ad or the car." "Think Small" would be hailed by Advertising Age as the campaign of the century. Draper in 1960 was strictly "third-tier."

But four years later, Draper has embraced advertising's so-called creative revolution. He now has some of the cocky, street fighting attitude of George Lois, who worked on the Volkswagen project. Like Lois, he has become the creative director of a small, guerilla agency, which must outsmart the big boys with guts and imagination. He is so proud of the cinematic quality of his Glo-Coat commercial. I loved the touch that this supposedly groundbreaking commercial is aired in black and white; the networks don't go all color until the late sixties. No matter how colorful the modernistic furniture has become, TV is still your basic black and white medium in 1964.

The revolutionaries in advertising wanted to merge art and commerce, while helping to remake society with little tolerance for regressive clients. Certainly, Don's explosive interaction with Jantzen about their prudish bikini campaign underlines his newly acquired rebellious sensibility. Draper is not locked into past anymore with idealized images of family (The Wheel episode ending Season One); he wants his new work to be provocative and sexy, pushing contemporary mores.

But how much does Don really know about the contemporary world? Ironically, Don's blind date, a faux Betty, talks about the civil rights movement and the murder of Andrew Goodman. Don says nothing in response, just like his opening Advertising Age interview about himself. He has moved to Greenwich Village, very close to where Bob Dylan actually lived. Don haunted the Village coffeehouses with Midge during the first season, but had no understanding of the emerging youth culture. If he is going to be more than a self-promoter as seen in the episode's final scene, he must connect with what's happening.

Peggy seemed to be an exemplar of her generation, crafting commercials sounding a lot like  Serge Gainsbourg while discussing Dylan with her young cohorts. In November 1964 she no longer seems the breath of fresh air at the agency. Her flirtatious duet with the new copywriter resonated with cute nostalgia, based on a Stan Freberg parody from 1951. Her "chop chop" demeanor signaled an assertiveness that was also laced with office efficiency. If she is going to be part of the creative revolution, she must do better than to concoct publicity stunts at local supermarkets.

Let's face it, one of the pleasures of watching Mad Men is to look for anachronisms. You know you do it. Perhaps, you wondered why the kids were watching some ancient looking serial, certainly not of the sixties. That was Sky King from the early fifties, which was syndicated on local stations well into the next decade. It was nice to see Sky's plucky niece Penny, back on TV, even for a few seconds. Commentators have questioned Matt Weiner's inappropriate use of graphics and fonts. The major question in this episode is the source of the company's spiffy new logo. Much commentary has been written on whether the font is from the time appropriate Akzidenz Grotesk or the dreaded Arial from the eighties with Microsoft associations. The faith in Mad Men's art department is at stake here (read more from the blogosphere).

Here are the three logos and you can make your own decision:

 

Arial font

Akzidenz Grotesk font

I applaud Matt and music director David Carbonara for choosing the Nashville Teens' version of Tobacco Road to close the show. The song is not one of the British Invasion clichés and subtly evoked Draper's nebulous origins. I wonder if the team will play one of December 1964's biggest hits, Bobby Vinton's "Mr. Lonely": "Lonely, I'm Mr. Lonely, I have nobody for my own." Here is Vinton on the December 2, 1964, episode on Shindig, singing just for the private Don.

  • Thanks Evan. We will keep reading your blog. Bob, you mention the creative revolution and Don Draper. Scholar Gary Edgerton, who is editing an academic anthology on Mad Men, sent me this link to an interview that Matt Weiner just did with Terry Gross on Fresh Air (http://www.npr.org/templates/rundowns/rundown.php?prgId=13&prgDate=7-26-2010) Here is what Matt says of that bikini ad proposed by Don: "And part of the story of the show is that things are becoming cruder and more-you know, this is a very modern ad that Don shows there. It is part of the creative revolution. It is in that style that is humorous and a little risque and breaks a little bit of boundaries." I guess in the coming weeks Don will be embracing his own vision of the creative revolution professionally, and probably personally too.


    Ron, July 28, 2010 at 10:05 am

  • What a huge amount of work it must be to use only fonts, music, TV shows, etc., that existed back then. Makes it’s fun to watch.

    I vote for Akzidenz Grotesk as the logo font. A bolder, slightly extended Arial might look like it as well, but lets give Matt credit for choosing the right font for the right time. (Even though it’s boring in my opinion.)

    Can’t wait to see what Don Draper’s next ads look like and how much he’ll embrace the creative revolution.

    Bob

     

     


    Bob Morgan, July 27, 2010 at 8:06 pm

  • Thanks for burndownblog shout-out.


    evan7257, July 27, 2010 at 5:44 pm

About

Ron Simon

Curator, Television and Radio

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Ron Simon has been a curator at The Paley Center for Media since the early 1980s. He is also an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University, New York University, and Hunter College, where he teaches courses on the history of media. Simon has written for many publications, including The Encyclopedia of Television and Thinking Outside of the Box, as well as serving as host and creative consultant of the CD-ROM Total Television. A member of the editorial board of Television Quarterly, and a judge on the George Foster Peabody committee, Simon has lectured at museums and educational institutions throughout the world. Among the numerous exhibitions he has curated are The Television of Dennis Potter; Witness to History; Jack Benny: The Television and Radio Work; and Worlds Without End: The Art and History of the Soap Opera. He also discovered such lost programs as the live Honeymooners and the only video performance of the Rat Pack.

Interests:

Anybody and everything that can be transformed into a pixel.

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Ron Simon
rsimon@paleycenter.org

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