During the past week, I have become a fan of the AMC series Mad Men. It’s well written, directed and acted and captures the zeitgeist (granted in a caricature way) of an era that I find fascinating. (For anyone watching the program, I would have been about the age of the Draper’s daughter at the time during which the show is set).
I won’t write here in detail about the show for fear of including spoilers — there are too many things about the series I enjoyed because I went into it cold — I only knew it was about advertising in the late 1950s / early 60s. Placing the show in that period and using the names of real products allow for exploration of cultural trends during a period of radical change. The writers and director magnify the cultural differences with our own time to make them even more jarring: the sexism, the ubiquitous smoking, the continuous drinking, the clash of generational mores and old and new media — print and radio, the old, and TV, the new. The writing is so clever, one must have a range of awareness that goes from Cheever to Kerouac to commercial jingles to truly appreciate how great it is. But with no such awareness (although he has read Kerouac), my 17-year-old enjoys the show and watched the season with his highschool friends. (Another post for another venue: Why do teenage boys identify with the 1960-era men on Mad Men?)
My wife and I watched the first season (12 shows) during the past week (an easy iTunes purchase via my Apple TV), but last night we watched the first episode of the current season on the cable channel AMC. Unlike other premium channels, AMC has commercials, so I recorded the show and was ready to fast forward through them.
However, the advertising on the show was nearly as brilliant as the show, itself. Some “pre-roll” and “post-roll” ads from a single sponsor, BMW sandwiched the program. And at the middle of the program, one commercial appeared — a one-minute “documentary” — that looked at 1960s era BMW advertising accompanyed by a voice-over interview of the creative director who developed the “Ultimate Driving Machine” tag line.
At the end of the program, the BMW advertising was focused on current and future developments by BMW, including a hydrogen car, but still had a texture that tied it back to the past.
It was brilliant advertising that kept me from fast-forwarding through it. It was the type of TV advertising that works in any era.