The Cowley Mad Men

By Paul Cowley, Founder, CEO, & Creative Director

The cocktail-guzzling ad men in American Movie Classic’s Mad Men sleep with their secretaries, lie to their clients, and find ways to creatively lie to the American people. But even in spite of the lax morals the show portrays (and perhaps because of them), the show has developed a cult following of 3 million people who love the excitement, witty dialogue and devil-may-care attitude of the cast.

When I worked in New York in the 1970s things were just beginning to change. Guys were still drinking their lunch, everyone wore suits and the head of the department, much like Don Draper, always had a bottle in the drawer. But, the creative guys got to wear whatever they wanted and photography and TV were pretty well established in the industry. I remember doing a commercial for Dime Savings Bank and we shot the whole thing in video instead of film and the equipment could fill up this room! The advantage was you could see it when you were filming it, but that didn’t seem quite worth the hassle. It’s pretty neat looking back on how technology has improved.

There was a newness to advertising that is lost now; it’s still very effective but it’s basically a whole new ball game. Back then they were experimenting; they could shoot from the hip with little accountability and that created some wildly successful campaigns.

Among other things, Mad Men certainly has raised some eyebrows about the ethics of marketers. So, how does our office compare with Don Draper’s? Well for one thing, six out of the nine of us probably wouldn’t be here (or they’d be secretaries in skirts), and here at Cowley, good ethics rank high on our list of priorities. There’s no side bar in the office, no smoking in the conference room, and we don’t berate our clients when we don’t see eye-to-eye. We run every campaign with honesty and integrity to make sure our clients and their customers all get what they need.

Our approach to work is simple: we start our projects figuring out exactly who our client is, who their competition is, and what their customers want. Then we figure out the best ways to bring our client’s products to their customer. That’s what marketing really is all about: finding out what people want and giving it to them. Being a mid-size agency we can choose who we work with. We can walk away if a client doesn’t share our ethical views.

The daily work of an ad agency may not be as glamorous as Mad Men makes it seem, but we love what we do, and we do love to have fun! You can’t produce great creative ideas if you don’t have a creative environment, something original Mad Man William Bernbach knew and emphasized when he put his art director and his copywriter in the same room. This started to emphasize the importance of the creative team and also created Volkswagon’s “Think Small” campaign.

So with or without the glamour of our friends on AMC, we’ll keep doing what we love to do. Sometimes it’s better to keep the drama to a minimum!

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