Last summer, I met Don Draper from Mad Men.
I was at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. He was standing outside the venue wearing a suit and sunglasses, smoking a cigarette. Horribly hungover from the night before, I thought I was hallucinating. So I just stared at him until he looked up at me and asked, “Yes?”
Overwhelmed and a bit embarrassed, the best I could come up with was, “Isn’t it too hot for a suit?”
For that moment, I was transported to the ’50s. Draper does that to you. You also want to belong to that era when the ad guys were oh-so-suave! But unlike what you see on TV, especially in Mad Men, the ad world today can be oh-so-drab.
My older ad professionals often tell me about how Alyque [Padamsee] and his contemporaries would channelise Madison Avenue’s je ne sais quoi, walk in suits with a swagger, floor the wisest corporates with their witticisms, go for secret jazz parties with the hottest models and have drinking and smoking right at their work desks.
That was the Eighties. It’s 2013, things have changed.
Style and charm were the first casualties. The frills were dropped. The artist’s privileges were withdrawn. We were supposed to be prodigal artists, creating and redefining art and aesthetics that were meant to inspire. We have become engineers of information, manufacturing audience-seeking thought missiles that just get the job done.
Today, if you walk into an ad agency you will realise that they work on that very principle. Admittedly, it is a bit of a shock to walk into one.
It’s a whole new AGE
When I decided that advertising was my calling, I thought I would race Isabelle Adjani in a 1964-and-a-half-Ford Mustang convertible, down the curvy slopes of Monaco. Eight years into the business, I start my day with a short ride in an auto rickshaw, followed by a mundane ride in the Delhi metro. Then I wait for a chartered bus to drop me off at least a kilometre from office. That distance I cover on my humble pins.
At work, my ranting account management executives hit me with a tsunami of work. Deadlines are, contrary to what any advertising executive might say, matters of life and death. And you can’t be flippant with clients.
You can definitely not charm them like Draper does.
One would think the ad guys would at least get their grub right a la Mad Men. Well, they don’t. For lunch, our menu is a healthy mix of all kinds of oil and an occasional vegetable thrown in. Yes, we do get to eat fromage but that also comes floating in some kind of watery oil, courtesy the canteen. There’s so much oil in our food that if the White House got to know of our canteen, they wouldn’t care about the Middle East.
Most people feel that ad agencies are filled with extremely good looking people dressed impeccably. You might find an occasional looker at work, but I can assure you, it is not an employee. It’s probably a model. And boy, do they cause a ruckus at work! Once, I gave a girl a certificate of appreciation for just being pretty. The other men in the agency stood behind me and politely applauded! People are rarely well-dressed. I’ve been in advertising for nearly a decade now and I’ve only met one such person, Ankita Tobit. I fell madly in love with her the moment I saw her (in particular, her shoes).
Not quite like Mad Men, you might say. But despite my rants, sometimes when I sit with my feet on the desk, I thank my stars for being able to do just that! Sometimes, I also wonder why I get paid for the job I do. And sometimes, just sometimes, I feel a great sense of euphoria when I see my work in the newspapers (even though I got a mere eight-word feedback from the client). And it is then, in those moments, I too forget about how hot it is, and wear a suit!
WATCH THE SHOW
Mad Men is a period drama that revolves around the lives of advertising professionals working in agencies at Madison Avenue in New York in the Sixties.
Despite the obvious sexist undertones of show, where women are routinely treated as subpar to men, seven out of nine writers of the show are women.
It costs roughly $2.84 million (appoximately Rs 18 crore) to produce each episode.
All cigarettes smoked on the show (and there are plenty) are herbal, thanks to the California state law that forbids smoking in the workplace.
Udayan Chakravarty is a creative director with a leading ad agency
From HT Brunch, September 1
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