Fascinating think piece about advertising in the 1960s (and a little beyond) from Century of the Self documentarian Adam Curtis that sheds some interesting light on the actual historical Madison Avenue figures that certain characters from Mad Men seem to be based on.
For instance, although the deeply complex and anxious Don Draper character was obviously invented, there were certainly men in advertising during the era whose accomplishments and attitudes towards their craft might be seen to have an influence on how Draper is drawn, to wit, Rosser Reeves, legendary chairmen of the Ted Bates agency and pioneer of television advertising.
In his book, Reality in Advertising, Reeves delineated the concept of the USP or unique selling point. The idea was to condense the products’ benefits into as direct a statement as possible and then carpet-bomb the population with the advertising campaign so that this message penetrated the mass consciousness
Reeves’ favourite slogan was the one that he—and Don Draper—came up with for Lucky Strike: “It’s Toasted.”
If you are a fan of the series, Curtis’s essay is a must read:
Other than Herta Herzog there were few women in high positions in Madison Avenue. But then Shirley Polykoff rose up because she invented the phrase for Miss Clairol hair colour bath - “Does She, or Doesn’t She?”
Polykoff is the model for Peggy Olsen in Mad Men. She was a junior copywriter at Foote Cone and Belding and she was convinced that women should be allowed to be what they wanted to be - and she expressed that through a series of adverts for Clairol.
Clairol’s products allowed women to colour their hair themselves at home for the first time. But there was widespread social disapproval - only “chorus girls” coloured their hair. Polykoff broke that. For Nice ‘n Easy, Clairol’s combined shampoo and colour she wrote - “The closer he gets, the better you look”.
And then for Lady Clairol - which allowed you to become a platinum blonde for the first time - Polykoff wrote one of the greatest slogans ever:
“If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde”
This campaign was running when Betty Friedan was just finishing The Feminine Mystique. She was so “bewitched” by the slogan, and its message, that she went out and bought some Lady Clairol and bleached her hair.
Madison Avenue (Adam Curtis Blog)
Thank you, Michael Backes of Los Angeles, California!