original mad men tobacco pipeMad Men producers broke the hearts of millions when they called the series quits early in 2015. Thankfully, we have DVD sets and these incredible LIFE Magazine photos to keep the Mad legacy alive:

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Drinking, Womanizing, And Plenty Of Smokes: The Real Mad Men
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In 1958 the real Mad Men ruled Madison Avenue, New York. Though the dapper advertising executives would really hit their stride in the 1960s, LIFE Magazine saw the change in tide coming--and did a feature article on the subject in 1958 wherein they tried to separate fact from fiction.

Whether an accurate portrayal or not, ad executives had become known as much for their three-martini lunches and office affairs as the ad campaigns that forever changed the industry. To the public, ad execs worked as hard as they played, with the latter seeming to take place as much in the office as it did out of it.

Highlighting the mismatch between public perception and in-office reality--or at least the reality that Madison Avenue executives wanted to promote--a 1958 LIFE reporter wrote: “To ad men the most irritating feature about the recent publicity is that practically all the legends which have grown up about the ad business have no basis in fact. For example, ad people are no more addicted to martinis than anyone else.”

The End Of The War And The Beginning Of Mad Men

Mad Men Ads Cokes

Coca-Cola, April 11, 1960. Source: TIME.

The end of World War II ushered in an era of prosperity for many in the United States, bringing forth a change in shopping habits and the virtual extinction of the traditional door to door salesman. Product promotion needed to take place before the consumer even entered the store, which created a fast-paced and precarious market for advertising agencies to navigate.

Elements previously untouched--such as humor and irony--entered the advertising sphere, along with copywriter and art director-composed creative teams that simultaneously pushed and expanded advertising's limits. Following what became known as the "Creative Revolution," companies began to spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising, and the agency fee was often 15 percent or more of that expense.

A successful ad campaign could net an agency a fortune (plus new clients). A failed campaign could cripple--if not destroy--an ad firm completely. Such high stakes rendered intense, sometimes-vicious rivalries among ad firms inevitable.

Mad Men Ads Samsonite

A late '60s Samsonite campaign. Source: TIME

Veteran advertising exec Jerry Della Femina recalls work days that included the quintessential three-martini-lunches, liquor bottles hidden in desk drawers, offices filled with cigarette smoke, and by the 60s motel rooms that were being rented by the hour. According to Femina, a particular agency even held a vote for each sex to determine the person they would most like to sleep with. The winning couple was awarded a weekend at the Plaza Hotel.

By the end of the 1960s, a looming economic recession and emphasis on market research sucked much of the creativity out of the industry, with accountants and business administrators assuming many of the roles once held by the agency's more creative types. While Mad Men might be over and the era receding from memory with every passing year, their legacies live on through film.

For more on the real "Mad Men," check out this short VICE documentary on George Lois, the real Don Draper:

Erin Kelly
Erin Kelly is a freelance writer, artist and video editor that splits her time between the humid Midwest and the dusty corners of her mind.
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