This stylish, adult drama is set in the 1960s in a Madison Avenue advertising agency, where well-crafted, complex characters exchange dialogue as sharp as protagonist Don Draper’s suits.
In fact, so distinctive is the show on a sartorial level that it is thought to be responsible for a renaissance in men’s suit designs with higher waistbands and shorter jackets, as well as a resurgence of fedora felt hats.
The fashion is just one of many period details that Mad Men gets spot on. The whisky-swigging and chain-smoking – in the workplace – is another trend from yesteryear that features prominently in the series.
However, it is Mad Men’s take on sexism that is one of the most striking facets of the show – its depiction of shocking societal attitudes that are reflected in the outrageous and retrospectively amusing real adverts of the period featured in this blog post (above and below).
We’re talking attitudes where women were reduced to subservient, physically weaker, intellectually inferior beings, whose sole purpose in life was – seemingly – to keep their dear husband happy by doing the cooking, the shopping and the parenting, by looking their best and by not saying too much, by not thinking too deeply and certainly by not driving a car.
Of course, some people still think like this today. However, judging by the 1960s advertising howlers we have selected in this post, and by the prejudice that Mad Men depicts as the norm, it would be nice to believe that attitudes have changed somewhat, and for the better.
As Professor Stephanie Coontz, author of A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, says: “Mad Men’s writers are not sexist. The time period was.
“It is one of the most historically accurate television series ever produced. If anything, Mad Men sometimes gives its female characters more decisiveness and self-confidence than most women would have been able to muster in 1965.”
It is this likely lack of self-confidence that many of the adverts featured in this blog post were trying to exploit.
At least David Ogilvy, the real-life king of Madison Avenue, was one of the first advertising execs to credit female intellect, albeit while stereotyping women as mere shoppers.
Ogilvy wrote in his 1963 book Confessions of an Advertising Man: “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife.”