By Rachel Holmes
As passionate advertising junkies, the award-winning AMC drama, Mad Men, has probably illuminated many of our television screens. The series follows the lives, scandals and careers of Madison Avenue advertisers in 1960s New York. The plot focuses on the character, Donald Draper, at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Advertising Agency, and his work on major advertising campaigns, troubled past, promiscuous lifestyle, and fight to keep ahead of the young advertisers fighting for a shot at his position.
Although it has won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series four years running, and is claimed to “depict authentically the roles of men and women in this era while exploring the true human nature beneath the guise of 1960s traditional family values” (AMCTV), media critics argue that the way the show depicted the roles of women in advertising are less than accurate of the times.
As the lone woman copywriter among a sea of female secretaries, Peggy Olson stands out as an overly motivated and unique character. However, unlike the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce agency, women started working in advertising way back in the nineteenth century.
By the time the Creative Revolution hit in the 1960s, J. Walter Thompson published a booklet to attract college-educated women to start a career in advertising aside from being a secretary. It was called “Advertising: A Career For Women,” and it talked about the industry as well as some stereotypes of the times.
For instance, although women worked at J. Walter Thomson and other advertising agencies like it, they often worked on soaps and other “lady-friendly” accounts. In addition, while women worked on many projects, they were less likely to pitch ideas to “male-oriented” companies.
Despite the stereotypes, women were still encouraged to work in the industry because there was such a high demand for women’s products. An excerpt from the booklet states that, “advertising is a particularly promising field for women because so much advertising is directed to women and so many products are purchased by women” (Business Insider).
In the current era, women have many more opportunities to work in advertising agencies. And rather than being confined to advertising female products, women have many more chances to work on accounts with products that are target to a male demographic. Just as Peggy got a job as a copywriter in the television series, women are able to work as copywriters as well as any other position in an advertising agency.
Women have even created advertising agencies that work on accounts that focus either exclusively on products and services for the female demographic or on a more broad and diverse market. With a unique opportunity, women need to continue striving hard to continue making an influential impact on the advertising industry.
When it comes down to it, it isn’t about the gender difference that defines good advertising. It is about a passion for the industry and the quality of the work produced.
Photo 1: http://www.businessinsider.com/what-the-women-of-madison-avenue-really-looked-like-in-1963-2012-4#the-booklets-begin-with-an-explanation-of-what-advertising-is-with-one-notable-difference–see-below-1
Photo 2: http://www.businessinsider.com/what-the-women-of-madison-avenue-really-looked-like-in-1963-2012-4#the-section-continues-with-the-companys-declaration-of-being-dedicated-to-furthering-womens-careers–4