Josh Sklar
May 18, 2015

'Mad Men' is over. Is the ad industry to follow?

The existential crises afflicting the series' characters may sound familiar to their non-fictional counterparts.

Josh Sklar
Josh Sklar

The long-awaited series finale of “Mad Men” has finally, sadly, arrived. We watched with fascination as our fictional counterparts went through a number of difficult scenarios all too familiar to many of us:

  • From being underappreciated at an established agency.
  • To taking the plunge and forming their own independent startup.
  • Which they grew into something attractive enough for McCann to buy as a conflict agency.
  • And, eventually, successful enough to be absorbed into the main agency .

Yet there, each archetype of advertising faced an existential crisis about the future of their careers and lives. Sound like something you’ve been through or are currently suffering?

My creative partner, John Lambie, and I spent the last couple of years speaking to leading advertising luminaries worldwide to compile a book of their own war stories from the industry’s past, present, and future. So in the spirit of reflection brought on by the Mad Men finale, here are some thoughts from names that will be familiar here in APAC:

Peter Moss, creative director, Leo Burnett:

The whole agency model is change-averse. It’s unfortunate, and it has very much to do with that old Darwinism about, ‘It’s not the biggest and the strongest, but the most agile that actually survive.’ I think Ogilvy as a whole benefited from OgilvyOne spending many years getting to grips with digital. But at some point, we had to open the doors to everyone, and now digital is as pervasive in Ogilvy as creativity.

Jeff Cheong, president, Tribal Worldwide Asia:

Integration has been on the lips of many people since day one. I’ve seen various permutations and even within my own agency we’ve tried. True integration can only be grasped by a small elite. They understand the complexity of transmedia storytelling and have great managerial skills to bring different people together. They are the playmakers and not politicians.

Andy Greenaway, executive creative director, SapientNitro:

There will be a big role for training and mentoring in the future. Ogilvy and JWT used to be known as the universities of advertising, but since they’ve been taken over by essentially banks their training budgets have been slashed to almost nothing. The agencies that invest in training will rise above the others. At this moment in time, I can only see the independents doing this. They’re not shackled by the stormtrooping money monkeys.

Tobias Wilson, CEO, Asia Pacific Digital:

When I started I had friends in marketing that would tell me how they love working with Ogilvy or relate how, ‘Saatchi took us out for lunch at Uncle Bob’s.’ That was part of the wank of being a big end marketer. Now it’s really starting to come down to results and what’s become common is that marketers are now getting their asses chewed out when campaigns don’t work. Suddenly those lunches are becoming less important because they don’t really help us to win.

Jim Speelmon, client services director, Razorfish:

Martin Sorrell’s biggest mistake was he bought everything that he thought would possibly make money in digital and he basically recreated the chaos of the Internet within WPP. They don’t work together. They don't leverage each other. It’s the same mess that you have in the broader interactive world. The future for an Ogilvy is being a sub-unit inside of an Accenture.

Ignacio Oreamuno, executive director, The Art Directors Club of NYC:

Hell, I don’t think change is coming. Change came and it’s in the entrance of the agency and it’s been waiting for a coffee for the last two hours. No one’s even paying attention to it. Me, the head of an awards show doesn’t have a TV and we’re awarding TV ads. That’s evidence that the world pretty much changed and it’s pretty dramatic and there’s nothing that anybody can do about it. I’m seeing it by people quitting.

Frederique Covington Corbett, international marketing director, Twitter:

The agency model is broken. When I made partner at Bates, I tried to instigate change from within. I really tried. I tried to make it happen from the ground up at the local office level. And I tried to make it happen at the senior level across the network. People just weren’t interested, especially the creatives. I even fired everyone and tried to rebuild it with people that did get it. I put in social media and analytics teams, hired digital creatives. But it was such a struggle—an uphill battle. The ingrained culture was just so hard to change from within. It was then that I made a deliberate choice to go client side.

Thierry Halbroth, executive creative director and chairman, Creative Council at McCann Worldgroup:

In the advertising world, you’ll hear both sides. This is really a split, but people say, ‘It’s horrible what we’ve come to. It’s become so complicated, so manipulative. We never had it better than in the ’60s or the ’80s when we were just working on radio and TV spots and print ads.' But you’ll hear the other guys say, ‘No, there has never been a better time to be in advertising than now because anything you want to do, you can do it. Anything. Anything!’

Josh Sklar (@chiefheretic) is president of Heresy and author of “Digital Doesn’t Matter (and other advertising heresies)”. The book, with a foreword by Jeff Goodby, is available in print and Kindle formats from Amazon and has an 'ever-updating' iPad app.


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