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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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AMC did the ad world proud with "Mad Men," and now they've moved on with "The Pitch." (Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC)
AMC did the ad world proud with "Mad Men," and now they've moved on with "The Pitch." (Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC)

Diary of a Mad Man

For years now, the ever-popular television series "Mad Men" has entertained, delighted and revealed some fundamental truths about advertising (not to mention chain smoking and alcoholism).

And while it takes place in the 1960s, it's completely relevant to the business today – trade the boozing for gaming.

Sure, some of the characters are over-the-top drama queens, but for the most part, we in the advertising world are impressed with the American Movie Channel's portrayal of our day-to-day.

And I believe they've done it again.

The latest ad game on AMC, "The Pitch," couldn't be more different from "Mad Men," but it delivers the same sweet fix of great ideas and big business. The show pits two ad agencies against one another in an all-out fight to win a piece of business from a high-profile client.

The first two episodes, which premiered this past Monday, featured Waste Management and Subway Restaurants as clients. 

In each episode, the producers attempt to reveal some insight into the agencies – from internal conflict to unique perspectives to sheer enthusiasm. Obviously, telling the story of ad folks gearing up to present ideas worthy of winning business takes a little longer than an hour, so much of it is over-simplified and glossed over. However, the spirit of the process, the stress of growing a business and varying degrees of ego are spot-on.

So, hooray for the ad man, or woman. We've positioned ourselves even further away from the sappy, over-sensitive 30-something days, and for the first time in my career, my parents are finally beginning to understand what I do for a living.

No, Ma, I don't have a bottle of scotch in my desk drawer and I haven't slept with my secretary, but I will never stop trying to come up with the best ideas and win some sweet, sweet business.

The heart wants what the heart wants.
The heart wants what the heart wants.

Love and happiness

On an Easter trip back home in Nebraska, I’m in my brother’s backyard sitting by a fire and chit-chatting about life. Somehow our conversation turns into an area between politics and lifestyle, and he casually made a very definitive statement about homosexuals "choosing to be gay." I’m paraphrasing, of course, not having recorded the conversation…

"I’m sorry. What?," I ask.

"People choose to live that way," he returns.

"I’m sorry. WHAT?!," I ask again.

"It’s a lifestyle people choose. They want to be gay," he explains.

As if it were an illicit drug, or some other lowly vice, it was his opinion that "these people" were engaging in homosexuality, and could stop if they would just "straighten up." I was flabbergasted. (I’ve never used the word "flabbergasted" so correctly before.) And in another discussion with a different "Christian" relative here at home, I heard, yet again, the same opinion. Yes, flabbergasted x 2.

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s table homosexuality for now.

Attraction, as a rule, doesn’t ask permission. We, as animals, have no control over whether or not we love crab cakes, or John Coltrane songs, or BMWs. We employ our senses to see, taste, touch, smell or hear something, and we like it or we don’t. Most of the time, we can’t explain why, either. I love scuba diving. My wife hates scuba diving.

And speaking of my wife, the moment I first saw her, she was sitting at the bar at Von Trier’s. I came in after a Brewers game and sat next to her. We had a Guinness and talked about film, Cindy Sherman and advertising and I knew I would be sitting next to her for the rest of my life. I was head over heels.

I had no choice in the matter.

To choose what to love or desire is to be manufactured. Plastic toys are manufactured. Humans, as you well know, have diverse tastes and styles and those preferences are sewn into our DNA before we pop out of the oven. Sure, liking certain things can be enhanced or developed, like th…

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Yesterday's reference material is today's recycling.
Yesterday's reference material is today's recycling.

A phone book? Really?

There are moments in time when one convention comes to an end and another begins. For instance, in the beginning of the 20th century there was a point where cars outnumbered horses. And within that transition there were a lot uncomfortable changes. Horse traders lost jobs, car dealers got jobs and the smell of horse poop was replaced with exhaust.

These moments are marked by events when you suddenly realize they're happening.

Like yesterday, while leaving the house, I nearly tripped over a glossy, orange bag with AT&T printed on it. "A phone book?" I thought. Why the hell do I have phone book on my porch? (And before you leave a comment about people who still use phone books for whatever reason, know that I get it.) But honestly, at what point do we see our last phone book? The two days that I have mine are made up of one day on my front porch and one day on my dining room table until it finally goes into the recycling bin.

Each year it becomes more obvious that this, of all printed material, is dead. Now if AT&T handed out primitive Kindles in little orange bags, I'd think, BOOM, they'd have something – and each year was just an updated download.

And I don't even have a land-line. So, does everyone in town just get one? Did you get one? I'm sure at one point it was an excellent profit center for yellow page advertising, and that could still be the case. But the audience for all of that advertising has surely bottomed out in the past 10 years.

So, there it sits on the porch – future recycling fodder in a future poopy bag.

Back in the day, hats were part of the dress code at ball games.
Back in the day, hats were part of the dress code at ball games.
The author sports his Father's Day gift.
The author sports his Father's Day gift.

Hats off to a modern world

Do a Google search for "1920s baseball crowd" and you'll find some wonderful things: The innocence of a bygone era, a haunting reminder of our mortality and a lot of guys wearing hats. Hats, for crying out loud.

I'm kind of pissed off at John F. Kennedy.

After all, he is blamed for killing the hat within American culture. We used to wear some hats until the election of 1960 came along and Kennedy wanted to show off his chock of thick, Irish hair and, BOOM, no one else wanted a hat either. I mean, it's not like it got less sunny or we suddenly suffered less from bad hair days – it simply lost favor.

Years ago on an elevator – I remember it like it was yesterday – a gentleman got on and was wearing a nice suit ... and a beautiful hat. A black suit with a black fedora with a feather. I found myself having an instant man-crush on this guy and even managed to stammer out a complement, "Great hat." I was smitten and vowed to become a hat wearer.

And no, baseball caps are not "hats."

But it's tough wearing a hat. You feel like some geeky fashionista the first time you try it on. This is new territory. It's not like your father taught you how. My father was 17 in 1960 and much preferred the hatless Kennedy style. So, you're left to figure it out for yourself.

I have been bolstered as of late, though, seeing the hat's popularity make a small return. I got a hat for Father's Day this year and each time I wear it, I get complements. I'm becoming more comfortable and am feeling my way through the hat world.

I invite you to join me. Maybe as a celebratory gesture for the Brewers postseason, we can all buys hats and go to the ballpark. At least the hat will be a hell of a lot cheaper than the seat. Go Brewers!