I caught the trailer for the new show “The Crazy Ones” the other day. It stars Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Bob Benson from Mad Men. The premise is the adventures of an ad agency run by a father and daughter duo, one kooky and one Type A. I haven’t watched an episode yet, but it got me thinking about how advertising seems to be a hot theme on television and film right now.
Mad Men aired in 2007, and its success made everyone and their mom suddenly want to go into advertising. We’ve all had way too many people ask “You work at an ad agency? Is it like ‘Mad Men?’”
I think the first time I became aware of advertising as an industry was 2001. I was only 13 years old then, and I was really into *NSYNC like I was supposed to be. So I watched this cheesy romantic comedy called “On the Line” featuring two of the boy band’s less popular members.
Lance Bass plays a shy pushover advertising employee who keeps quiet when a coworker steals his idea and presents it as her own. Then he meets this hot girl on the train and they talk for a hot second without getting her number or name, so he makes flyers in the office and posts them all around town in hopes to find her again. It was pretty bad because singers aren’t always good at acting (although you can argue that Lance Bass was doing a great job pretending to be a straight man in real life), but I remembered thinking, “Wow, that ad agency’s office is so cool and colorful! And his advertising job looks so fun and easy!” Looking back, the only thing realistic about that movie was that copy machines at ad agencies indeed have been used to make a wide variety of weird stuff.
Curious, I asked my coworkers if they had similar experiences with fictional stories about advertising. I received some interesting responses.
Tom Lyons, Creative Studio Director: I did like the Mel Gibson & Helen Hunt movie, “What Women Want.” I can relate to the scene where he tries all the women’s products to get in the mind of the consumer. I have definitely tried on a lot of “girly stuff” in the name of work.
But Tom, why haven’t you gotten shocked and magically gained the ability to read females’ minds yet? That would win us so much new business!
Pauby Widjaja, Designer: After graduating from high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I took a year off and traveled. During that time, I watched the movie Sweet November. Keanu Reeve plays a Creative Director, and there’s this scene where he’s pitching to a client that sells hot dogs. Watching him present and sell the idea inspired me to be in advertising. I know it’s the worst movie to be inspired by for my career, but at least it got me to where I am today.
Fun fact: This 2001 film was set in San Francisco, where Pauby works now. Dreams really do come true! Although Tom Lyons isn’t exactly Keanu Reeves… for better or worse.
Caroline Moncure, Senior Client Strategist: Uh, I came into advertising because of Darrin Stephens from Bewitched. Duh.
While Samantha had the much cooler job of witch/housewife, Darrin was an advertising executive at an agency in New York City called McCann and Tate. The black and white 50’s TV show was set in contemporary times, so you could say Bewitched was like Mad Men, plus magic and warlocks, but with equal amount of difficult mother-in-law…Of course, the guy crazy enough to marry a witch works in advertising.
Brian Perkins, Creative Director: Tom Hanks’ first big role was on an 80s sit-com called “Bosom Buddies”. He and Peter Scolari play two advertising creatives struggling to make it in the big city. The only place they could afford to live was a women-only apartment complex, so they have to cross-dress and masquerade as women named Buffy and Hildegard. Of course Tom Hanks falls in love with a hot blonde neighbor. The two friends are a writer/art director team, who at first worked under a crazy drunk middle aged woman, but then strike out on their own and start their own shop. My sister and I, who watched the show religiously, still sing the jingle they write for Bob’s Frozen Meatsicles: “Pork pops, sausage sundaes, and your favorite chicken in a cone!” Man, television was crazy in the 80’s.
They had to pretend to be of a different gender for lower rent? Gosh, I hope that doesn’t happen to us in San Francisco and NYC.
Good or bad, realistic or ridiculous, we appreciate these portrayals of our jobs. There are more shows and films about doctors, lawyers, and cops, but that doesn’t mean we don’t hold an equally important role in society. Am I comparing selling hot dogs to brain surgery? Maybe. Depends on how hard I need to sell you on it…
We do wonder how much the brands and products featured in these shows and movies pay for the exposure as clients or pitch targets in the plot. Definitely higher than product placement. Will go ask our media guy.