‘Real MADison Men’ discuss experience in 1960s ad industry

BY MELISSA DELLACATO
Managing Editor

At a table in the front of room CH 100 sat six successful men who worked in the advertising industry during its “golden age”: the Real Madison Men.

The forum took place Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 12:30 p.m. Approximately 30 to 40 people attended, including County College of Morris students, to learn what it was really like to work in the advertising industry during the 1960s.

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness,” says Don Draper, the main character and ad executive on “Mad Men,” the show which inspired the forum.

As the theme to the popular AMC drama played quietly in the background, Keith

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photo by Nicole Versandi
The ‘Real MADison Men’ present advertisements from the 1960s.

Smith, dean of the division of liberal arts, introduced Bernie Zlotnick, adjunct professor who teaches advertising design.

Zlotnick said he worked as a creative director at Young & Rubicam, a major advertising agency at the time. His poster for The Peace Corps can be seen in the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and was named one of the best 100 posters of the 20th century.

After talking about some of his personal experiences, there was a short presentation that began with the opening credits and TV promo for “Mad Men.”

In the 1960s, Madison Avenue in Manhattan, where the name “mad men” was coined, was home to many major advertising agencies, including Young & Rubicam, which is still there today.

They also showed some infamous 1960s print ads – such as Levy’s, Benson & Hedges, Volkswagen, and Meow Mix – and TV commercials – such as Alka Seltzer, Cracker Jack, and a campaign for President Johnson. These commercials were approximately a minute each, which is very different from today’s 15-30 second long commercials.

The next five Madison Men then proceeded to discuss their experiences. Alan Zweibel wanted to be a painter, so he studied fine arts in college. Unfortunately, no one bought his paintings. Eventually, he became an assistant to an assistant art director at an advertising agency, where he was able to put his painting skills to good use.

“In those days, you had to know how to draw to do ads,” Zweibel said. “You had to draw or paint and letter the presentation to the clients. When you showed the client an ad, it was your drawing and your lettering which had to make the sale.”

Mike Slosberg went into advertising “accidentally.” After serving in the Korean War, he got a job as an office boy at an ad agency and simply “fell in love with advertising.”

“I had always loved drawing and writing,” he said. “Suddenly I found something where I could get paid for doing all those things, so it was kind of wonderful.”

He was hired by Y&R, the ad agency that all advertising people wanted to work at, according to Slosberg. He became a creative director in 1969.

Maurice Mahler grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. and, like Zweibel, he wanted to be a painter. He attended Brooklyn Museum Art School and, later, Brooklyn College.

One of his first jobs was at Herald Tribune working on classified ads.

“[My boss] said ‘kid, get outta here, you’ll never be anything in this business,’” Mahler said. “That gave me the impetus to go and get another job and make up another portfolio.”

He went on to work at many different ad agencies, including William Douglas McAdams, Grey Advertising, and Y&R.

Mark Yustein went to High School of Art and Design and then majored in advertising design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

“Ever since I was a little boy, I always knew I wanted to be a commercial artist,” he said.

After serving in the Army, he tried different jobs in promotions and magazine design until he was hired at Della Femina Travisano & Partners. He said the atmosphere at this agency was nothing like the serious atmosphere of “Mad Men.”

“[The agency] believed if you had a good time, you did good work,” he said. “[They] used to say, ‘advertising is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.’”

Ron Travisano, who co-founded Della Femina Travisano & Partners, the ad agency Yustein worked at, graduated from Pratt Institute in 1960.

During his junior and senior years of college, he worked for Y&R. He quit after 2 years and eventually became the art director for Delehanty Kurnit & Geller (DKG).

“Every time I went for a job, I always felt like I was in over my head,” Travisano said, “which is a good place to be because that’s how you learn how to swim.”

He started his own agency with Jerry DellaFemina. He went on to direct TV commercials and write screenplays.

“A creative person keeps growing,” he said.

Today, he still teaches at Pratt Institute and is in the process of writing a memoir.

Once all the speakers finished talking about their experiences, they compared what they knew to the portrayal of the advertising industry in “Mad Men.” They asked how many people in the audience have seen the show and nearly everyone raised their hand.

Zweibel commented on the “enormous amount of drinking and smoking” that occurs on the show. losberg said he doesn’t remember there being that much drinking, but the rest of the show is fairly accurate.

“We’re nicer people” than the characters in the show, Mahler said.

Travisano could not give an opinion for the show. “I’ve never seen the program,” he said. “Why should I watch something I lived through?”A student in the audience posed a question for the panel about what they felt was the most difficult part of working in advertising. Slosberg said that trying to prove that the commercials were working after they ran was a difficult task.

“Advertisers want to know what’s happening with the dollars they spend,” he said. “The business has changed tremendously and yet, the basics of it are still the same.”

“We were all part of a creative revolution,” Travisano said. “We didn’t know we were in a revolution when we were doing it. We just wanted to do great advertising.”

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