‘Mad Women’: real life in advertising’s good old/bad old days

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Jane Maas has been a major player in the New York advertising scene since the 1960s, so she is the perfect person to contrast real life there with its fictional depiction on the AMC series “Mad Men.”

St. Martin’s Griffin has just published “Mad Women” in which Maas shares her delightful and not so delightful memories of life in the ad business from the pre-liberated 1960s through the contemporary era.

Maas has already written one of the definitive books about her profession, “Adventures of an Advertising Woman” and co-authored “How to Advertise,” but the new book was triggered by the intense debate within her profession about “Mad Men.”

Maas is a fan of the series and writes that the show’s portrayal of sex and boozing in the 1960s and the subservient position of women in the field have not been overstated:

“The term ‘sexual harassment’ hadn’t been invented yet, or certainly wasn’t in our vocabularies. Most women then working in advertising were either secretaries or copywriters, and 99 percent of us had male bosses. The boss was in control of your salary, your raise, your career advancement…your life. If he wanted to go to bed with you, you had to ask yourself what mattered more: your self-respect or your career.”

Maas writes of her own problems in this area when she had to elude a grabby male superviser on a business trip. The author plants us so firmly in that earlier timer that we are able to understand the challenges women faced then — for some of us baby boomers, it’s an uncomfortable glimpse back at what our working mothers must have put with 50 years ago.

The book is much more than a insider’s commentary on a popular TV show, however.

Maas shares with us the creation of important campaigns she worked on and then led as she rose to the highest levels of her business. The chapter devoted to the creation of the “I Love New York” campaign in the 1970s will be of special interest to readers who love that city.

She is also honest about the fact that some of the most annoying TV ads in history were kept on the air for years simply because they worked. Of the infamous “don’t squeeze the Charmin” campaign, Maas writes “Consumers loathed it because it banged away at them like the Anacin hammer, but they remembered the message and bought the product anyway…it was the most detested and most successful advertising campaign on television.”

There’s a terrific chapter on the biggest mistake Maas made in an otherwise sterling career — going to work as Manhattan hotel czarina Leona Helmsley’s personal advertising creator:

“When it came to light that she mistreated her help and was sentenced to prison for tax evasion, the press dubbed her ‘the Queen of Mean.’ When she died, she cut two of her grandchildren out of her will and left their share to her dog. But don’t believe everything you’ve read about Leona. She was worse than that.”

Funny woman, funny book.

Joe Meyers

One Response

  1. TheTruth says:

    we certainly need women just like the good old days again.