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Advertising after 'Mad Men': How the show compares to real life

Monday - 4/14/2014, 9:16am  ET

Man Men (AP Photo/AMC, Jamie Trueblood)
This publicity image released by AMC shows, clockwise from foreground left, Vincent Kartheiser, Harry Hamlin, James Wolk, Aaron Staton, Robert Morse and John Slattery in a scene from "Mad Men." The season finale airs Sunday, June 23, on AMC. (AP Photo/AMC, Jamie Trueblood)
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ARLINGTON, Va. -- AMC's critically-acclaimed "Mad Men" depicts the drama of working at a 1960s New York City advertising agency -- a place where cigarette smoke and office bars are plentiful, while women and minorities in leadership roles were not.

The industry has changed a great deal in the last few decades, says Dave Marinaccio, senior vice president and chief creative officer of Arlington-based LMO Advertising.

He says that while the days of the "three-martini lunch" may be long gone, some of the show's main ideas about advertising are right on the money.

"The show does, I think, ring fairly true. It's really a soap opera with a little bit of advertising laid over top. But that little bit of advertising laid over top, I think, is at least grounded in reality," Marinaccio says of "Mad Men," which opened its final season Sunday.

He says the fictional agency of "Mad Men," Sterling Cooper & Partners, is structured much like today's advertising agencies, and the positions and titles are still the same -- there's just more collaboration now.

Marinaccio should have a good idea, too. He started his advertising career as a junior copywriter at Chicago's J. Walter Thompson in the 1970s.

"I used to go out in the '70s, and that was a little after the period that 'Mad Men' takes place, and it was very common to drink at lunch," he says. "Now, I have my lunch at my desk in front of my computer screen."

And the evolution in the industry is welcomed -- especially by LMO's director of marketing, Sherri Anne Green.

"I probably wouldn't have my job in 1962," Green says. "Women are more and more, dare I say, dominating, but taking a very strong role in advertising, and that's something you wouldn't have seen in the '60s, or would have seen very little."

How advertising has changed since the 1960s

Advertising has seen significant change since the era of "Mad Men," particularly regarding the resources available and the relationship with the consumer, Green says. Advertising agencies have access to more research, account planning and customer feedback, among other things.

Technology has been a game-changer, Green says. Where there used to be a limited number of TV and radio stations that advertisers could target, there are now "limitless channels" to communicate with consumers, she says.

"Now, consumers can go from not even knowing your company exists to buying [the product] in five minutes," Marinaccio says. "[Advertising] is more purposeful. You get a more direct response. You're driving them to a website, you're trying to get them to immediately buy -- or at least develop a relationship with the company."

Differences aside, the LMO staffers have an appreciation for the show, and many say they will be sad to see it end.

The company spent last week celebrating the show's final season with its own "Mad Week," which included a '60s- style party, a display of '60s-era ads and an advertising history lesson. The week culminated in a "Mad Men" watch party Sunday.

Green says she values the show because it is well-produced and has excellent character development. She says some people in the industry either love or hate the show because they say it doesn't capture the passion and the fun of the job.

"It is a serious business; it's all about selling a product or service for a client. That's dollars and cents," she says. "But it's also a whole lot of fun to think about the impossible, and different ways to communicate with consumers."

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