Monday, October 4, 2010

The Real Mad Men, Part II

Last night’s Mad Men hit home very closely.  It was eerily personal.
In last night’s episode, Sterling Cooper found out it had lost Lucky Strike, which was a product of the American Tobacco Company.  It was their largest account.   And, while we cannot know where the scripts in the last two episodes of the season take the program, it is clear from this episode, that the agency is poised for a tail-spin. 

It sounds all too familiar.  So much so that it blew my mind. 

As I previously wrote, my dad had an agency.  Until the late 1960’s it was called Lawrence C. Gumbinner Advertising.  Their largest account was American Tobacco.  They had, among other brands, Tareyton cigarettes.  They had American Tobacco for thirty-five years.  Tareyton billed, as I recall, about $40,000,000, which, even by today’s standards, was large, but by the standards of the mid-sixties, it was huge.

And then one day they lost it – to BBD&O.  After thirty years.  And with no reason and with no review.  It was  just like Sterling Cooper last night, which lost Lucky Strike to BBD&O.

While Roger Cooper found out that they were losing the account at dinner during the previous episode and clearly did nothing about it, including not telling his partners, in my dad’s case, it was a little different.  My uncle and my dad were playing golf one summer Friday afternoon at Fresh Meadows, my uncle’s club.  It was a rare occurrence for them to ever take a day off.  A club employee drove out to them on the golf course to give my uncle an emergency message (clubs provided those kinds of  services in those days) to call his client.  You know the rest.

Most people think that my dad’s agency did the “I’d rather fight than switch campaign”, for Tareyton but, without me passing personal judgment on it, I can say that my dad, my uncle and the other principals of the agency loathed that campaign.  It was Jim Jordan’s work at BBD&O.

The loss of the account was devastating to the Gumbinner agency, which, until that time, was the twentieth largest agency in the world.  It represented about forty percent of their billings.  It did not shut them down, but it was a devastating and surprising blow for the agency, especially since it came with no warning.

I cannot wait to see the next episodes of Mad Men.  We’ll see if it remains to be the same story as the one my family lived.

For more on my views of Mad Men, see my previous post.


  1. Are we sure that the writers don't have a direct line to your dad at the 19th hole?!

  2. You have to love the dated notion of people punching each other in the eye over cigarettes. I mean, people not in prison.

  3. Wow, that's really interesting. I love this show and am now fascinated with the ad biz of the 50s and 60s. Very interesting stuff.

  4. So how much are they paying your dad for lifting his life story? Get those lawyers on the horn.

  5. So interesting... can't wait to read your post after next week's episode :)

  6. Paul, that's a great story. I get the sense that quite a lot of the story is based on Della Femina's great book "From those Wonerful People Who Brought You Pearl Harbor"

    One of the things I have been giving a lot of thought to goes back to Series 2 when they are acquired by a UK agency. I may be wrong but I think this is the aquisition of Kenyon and Eckart by my grandfather's agency Colman Prentis and Varley. Their merger was very similar.


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