Mad Men, Season 4

Week 6: Is Peggy One Great Campaign Away From Being Treated Like Don?
Talking television.
Aug. 31 2010 3:25 PM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Week 6: Is Peggy One Great Campaign Away From Being Treated Like Don?

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm)

I love the character of Ted Chaough. The actor who plays him just looks like a smug operator. And he's certainly obsessed enough with Don to dig into his past. Remember, he already keeps "the boy who used to work for Don" on the payroll in order to divine his enemy's thinking. But it wasn't as if Don seemed freaked out by the general. Perhaps this is some period fad that we've forgotten? Could you rent a general for an event in the same manner that you could rent a beatnik? The more you think about, it was a weird move on Chaough's part.

John, I'm glad you brought up the cereal clients who need to visit New York and come home with a slogan that "folks" will understand. Don has been celebrated within the industry for his Glo-Coat spot, but do we know if it's moved any more floor polish? Maybe the Jantzen guys and the Life guys aren't such rubes after all. Maybe a basic message more than does the job. Yet, at the same time, these clients want to be dazzled by the Madison Avenue advertising show. It's like coming to Manhattan to see the Rockettes.

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There was a quick shout-out in the episode to higher-level advertising that actually did remake a brand. When poor Danny is showing Don and Peggy his book, he includes the famous "Lemon" ad for Volkswagen by DDB, last seen confounding the boys of Sterling Cooper in Season 1. (Listen to this amazing This American Life story about one of the creators of that campaign, Julian Koenig.) One theme this season is whether advertising is best when it tries to disrupt a worldview or merely distills and refines worldviews that already exist in the culture.

One answer is suggested by all the cameos of news spots and political ads this season. The show gives the (accurate, I think) impression that 1965 was a time when the mass media was still mass, when the audience was less wary of manipulation, and something like the "Daisy" ad for Johnson could become a true turning point. That's why the clients are so willing to be impressed by Don. These Mad Men had the aura of wizards around them, the ability to move the levers of desire and decisionmaking.

The joke is that their personal decisions are total misfires. Except for Peggy (well, if you overlook that whole giving away Pete's child episode). She seems to be one great campaign away from being treated with a Don-like level of respect. But will her squareness ultimately hold her back? Another implicit suggestion of the show is that great advertising seems to emerge from one's dark side. Verbs alone are not enough; you need a firsthand knowledge of vice.

I think I drank too much at lunch.

Agger

Michael Agger is an editor at The New Yorker. Follow him on Twitter.

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