What I like about AMC’s Mad Men is that its creator Matt Weiner is very conscious of the outside forces that are implicitly shaping his characters. The fictional advertising agency Sterling Cooper is set in the very real early sixties where revolutionary ideas are fomenting. In design, George Lois is challenging the traditional advertising aesthetic. In the third episode of Mad Men conventional ad executives are mystified by his ‘Think Small’ campaign.
In Which Don Draper = George Lois/George Lois = Don Draper?
MCN: Did you go back to some of the icons of the era? Are some of the characters composites of the big names from Madison Avenue’s past?
MW: It depends on what you think are icons. When you read the history of advertising, there’s David Ogilvy, there’s Bill Bernbach, George Lois and so forth. Ogilvy is the only person who worked in anything like a place like ours, and I did read his book. Who I really modeled it on — when I read these histories about agencies in the ‘50s — were these super White agencies. I guess McCann was like that, BBDO was like that. There were some characters at these places … There was a guy named Draper Daniels, who was considered one of the great copy guys ever, and that’s where I got that name [series protagonist and resident creative genius at Sterling Cooper], John Draper.
“Book’s good. By the way, it has Julian Koenig’s fingerprints all over it.”
Of course, it is ironic that Draper, as Lois’ proxy, would act as protective mouthpiece to the works of Julian Koenig, considering Lois’ own dubious relationship with plagiarizing from Koenig. As it would turn out, George Lois was partners with Julian Koenig and Koenig has gone on record saying that George Lois unfairly took credit for work that should have been credited to Koenig including the “Think Small” campaign. He also describes George Lois appropriating some of Koenig’s personal experiences as his own. This myth of origin parallels Don Draper’s own self invention. While this sociopathic urge to only move forward, at all costs, leaves flotsam in its wake, it also points out that we need and desire heroes and that without these inherent tragedies, there is no possibility for myths or heroes.
For the definitive word on Mad Men and its extensive roots, see The Footnotes of Mad Men.