WHAT: Smithsonian Channel’s The Real Mad Men of Advertising, a four-part documentary series premiering on January 8 at 9 p.m. EST.
WHO: The likes of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, former creative director at Ogilvy & Mather Jane Maas, and Lee Clow, chairman and global director of TBWA\Worldwide, are interviewed. John Slattery, who played Roger Sterling on Mad Men, narrates. Molly Hermann wrote, produced and directed.
WHY WE CARE: This documentary series provides an illuminating tour through four decades of advertising, starting in the 1950s when television was a new medium and advertisers weren’t just selling product but the idea of consumption as a patriotic act after World War II and wrapping up in the 1980s when nothing got between Brooke Shields and her Calvins, an Orwellian Apple commercial upped the game for Super Bowl advertisers and everyone wanted their MTV.
Along the way, we learn about the creative revolution of the 1960s—sparked by a 1959 “Think Small” ad for Volkswagen out of Doyle Dane Bernbach that inspired advertisers to drop the hard sell approach of the 1950s for a smarter, self-deprecating tone—and the advent of government regulations in the 1970s that forced advertisers to back up their claims and banned cigarette ads from television and radio.
To its credit, The Real Mad Men of Advertising gives voice to creative people who, despite their talent, had to fight for their place in the advertising business among the heralded Mad Men we hear so much about. In the episode focusing on the 1960s (airing January 15), Maas talks about being treated like a second-class citizen simply because she was a woman, while designer Archie Boston recalls being employed in the creative department at an advertising agency for a year before he was introduced to a client who loved his work because his bosses were fearful that the client would move the business elsewhere if it was known that an African-American man was on the account.