Ad Industry Rejects “Mad Men” Image


Ad industry professionals are putting the “mad” in Mad Men. Unhappy with the public seeing them in the same way that some of them enjoy romanticizing themselves (i.e., sharks), advertising insiders are teaming up in an attempt to overhaul the industry’s image. But with recent survey results ranking ad professionals among the least trustworthy professions, just below car salesman, can advertising rebrand itself?[more]

The short answer is, probably not. As advertisers well know, you may get people to buy something once, but you can’t trick people into buying something all of the time. And advertising alone does little to change minds or perception in the short term.

The Institute for Advertising Ethics, a research center, is at the core of the movement’s efforts. By focusing on ethics, the organization’s goal is to improve the public image of advertising.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper, author of the just-released book Mad Men Unbuttoned, argues that it’s a misplaced effort. “Ad men should not be reinventing themselves as professional service people like nurses, lawyers, teachers. They are entertainers.”

She counters that ad execs should “take the sexiest, riskiest part of the industry and make it the selling point. That will actually make people trust them more. It’s counterintuitive marketing. Like the VW ad ‘do you think the Beetle is homely?’ That’s because it is? Do you think men in advertisements are trying to seduce you with images and sex? Yes! Great!”

The “ethics” move on the part of advertisers smacks of the laughable, and similar, effort of MBAs to gain respect post-economic-meltdown.

When Wall Streeters became the targets of pitchforks and torches following the collapse of the global financial markets, leading business schools including Harvard floated the idea of a code of ethics similar to what doctors embrace. The MBA “ethics oath” left many laughing at both its ambition and its prospects.

Vargas-Cooper adds, “If anything, Madison Ave. should try to be more like the characters of Mad Men. Scrupulous, ambitious, and well packaged. Saved the ‘trustworthy’ for baby food ads.”

A real “Mad Man” and Madison Avenue veteran, Ed McCabe, recently told the New York Times that Mad Men isn’t an accurate portrayal: “It was way, way more fun and crazy than they make it out to be. And the people weren’t that superficial and immoral.”