By Elaine Wong
Mad Men, the hit AMC drama, shows advertising during its supposedly golden age of rampant alcohol abuse and sexism. The female panelists at Thursday's "Mad Women" event, part of Advertising Week, endeavored to show how far the industry has come since then.
Speakers including Wenda Harris Millard (the former Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia co-CEO who is now president of consultancy Media Link) and Angela Courtin, svp of marketing at MySpace, discussed some of the trends and dynamics shaping marketing today. The rise of social media, brands' desire to join the conversation without being "disruptive," and clients' unwillingness to pay top dollar for agency work—when many can perform the same duties in-house—are all changing the way agencies and the creative business operate, the panelists said.
The latter is clearly a risk, because "once you reduce your fees, you can never put them back up again, and once you give something away for free, you can never charge for it again," said former Bartle Bogle Hegarty U.S. chairman Cindy Gallop (shown here), now a marketing consultant.
Addressing moderator and author James P. Othmer's question about whether there is a "breaking point" for brand engagement, MySpace's Courtin said marketers should continue to push the limit with innovation. Case in point: Unilever's Dove microseries with Alicia Keys, which ran during episodes of The Hills on MTV last year, resulted in a "98 percent commercial retention rate," she said.
Social media, too, is changing the way brands communicate with consumers. Unlike in traditional media channels, brands' efforts to advertise on social-networking sites often come across as "intrusive," not merely "disruptive," Millard said.
The conversation at times was punctuated with hearty declarations of women's role and power in advertising, and how far societal notions of women in leadership positions have come. Millard, a former chief sales officer at Yahoo!, recalled the days when "gender bias" was a "daily/hourly experience." That can also work the other way, said Christine Fruechte, president and CEO of Colle+McVoy, who said she's learned to take that "[underestimation] and turn it into an advantage."
Like the good ol' days of Mad Men, however, some things never change. Gallop repeatedly tempted the audience with offers of freshly prepared martinis, and she prepared two on the spot.