Friday, 12 June 2009

It's a mad world...

There's a bit of a stink kicking off across the pond at the moment, all because of a show called Mad Men. Set during the 'golden age' of advertising in 1960s New York, the drama follows the exploits of advertising genius Don Draper and the fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper.

Unlike ropey schlock like Melrose Place (where someone joins the typing pool one week, becomes an 'executive' the next, and by the end of the month is a Creative Director on the board), Mad Men understands the advertising industry with an incisive clarity that's never been seen before.

Anyone who works in any of the marketing disciplines would see something of their life reflected in this show, albeit all wrapped up in some spectacularly sharp period detail. Everything, from hair and make-up, to attitudes and ashtrays (everyone chain-smokes in Mad Men) is uncannily accurate. Adding to the verisimilitude is the fact that the producers use real products, brands and ad campaigns throughout, so you genuinely feel like you're watching (disposable) history in the making.

So why the controversy? Well, cable channel AMC has been pressuring show runner Matthew Weiner to cut the episodes short by two minutes to allow for an extra ad break per hour. Keen to protect the artistic integrity of his masterpiece, Weiner pushed back. After all, nothing will destroy the quality of a show all about the process of creating advertising like a couple of extra minutes of, erm, advertising.

Don't get me wrong, I get as frustrated as anyone by too many ad breaks during a good show. But that's why I tend to watch them on DVD instead. TV shows depend on advertising revenue, and they're all feeling the pinch as advertising budgets are slashed and networks find their income drastically reduced. The irony of course, is that it's a show about advertising that's kicking off about ads encroaching on its airtime.

For now, the dispute has been settled, with AMC offering to expand the show's time slot to keep its existing runtime and still make room for an extra ad break. But as Mad Men gears up for its third season, it's a shame they couldn't have been a little more creative about how they solved the problem. After all, the final episode of season two was broadcast with just one ad for Heineken throughout its entire running time. Heineken had previously been appeared in the show, playing itself in a paid-for product placement appearance as a beer looking to appeal to American consumers for the first time. Now that's method acting...

If this all seems a little bit insular and industry-specific, it's worth remembering that BBC3 has filmed a pilot of a new series based on one of Australia's biggest break-out hits - The Gruen Transfer. Named after the moment in a shopping mall where our eyes glaze over and we become pure consumers, The Gruen Transfer features a panel of industry experts dissecting the latest ad campaigns. Both these TV shows' popularity suggests that audiences have evolved again, from being media-savvy to media-curious. Which means that those of us who work in the industry are going to have to get smarter, or more inclusive in the solutions we create.

Tomorrow, back to tits and arse, I promise.

No comments:

Post a Comment