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“Advertising hasn’t changed” since “Mad Men” –Hank Wasiak at #140Conf

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

April 20th, 2010

During his #140Conf solo speech “Why Madison Avenue Should Love Social Media - The Thoughts of a Mad Man Turned Twitterholic,” Hank Wasiak (@hankwasiak on Twitter), who describes himself as an “Author, TV Host, Ad Guy,” made one key point I want to share with you.

I find it is always quite useful to listen to what advertisers say when they believe they are in an audience in which everyone has already bought into the idea that we as citizens exist to be “partners” with marketers. In an environment in which advertisers think we all buy in to their idea that we should and do value the “opportunity” to collaborate with corporations who want to shill to us, you can often hear really revealing tidbits. To wit:

The advertising industry, Wasiak said, has not changed very much since the days depicted in the AMC drama “Mad Men.” It’s a continuum, he explained.

Now, Wasiak was referring to marketing strategy. Yet although he wasn’t addressing the institutional and political mindsets that guide advertising messages, his statement certainly applies on that level. In “Mad Men,” we see how the behind-the-scenes chavinism and bigotry of the white, male-dominated ad industry of 1960s directly affected the way women, people of color and gay people were portrayed within ad content… and the way ad content then shaped cultural perceptions.

Long-time WIMN’s Voices readers know that we pay keen attention to the commercial and ideological motivations of advertisers, and the effects of these over news and entertainment media content. When I hear Wasiak saying that advertising hasn’t changed very much since the “Mad Men” era, I skip right past his marketing pitch and move directly to the institutional mindset that, for just one example, continues to believe that employing images of gruesome violence against women is the most effective way to sell clothes, shoes, cars, reality show episodes, and more.

In my new book, Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, I make the same point Wasiak made here today — advertising really has not changed since the “Mad Men” era. Where Wasiak described the continuum of advertising’s tools of persuasion (from old-school ad buys to marketing in new media and technology platforms), I focus on the way the advertising industry — especially via stealth marketing throughout the reality TV genre — is hard at work attempting to revive regressive ideas about gender, race, class and sexuality, and to ensure that forty years of feminist, anti-racist social progress are generally unreflected in contemporary advertising imagery.

If you knew nothing about American life and American people other than what you learned from product-placement-driven “reality” television (think: “The Bachelor,” “Extreme Makeover,” “Flavor of Love,” etc.), you would have no idea that the women’s rights, civil rights and LGBT rights movements had ever taken place. Instead, you’d see a world whose “Father Knows Best” values mirror those of “Mad Men.”

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