Today’s Real “Mad Men”

The real Mad Men of today are hardly just a bunch of commuters in gray flannel suits.

Maybe you haven’t heard, but Madison Avenue has moved. It’s now in SoHo, in the Financial District, on the Lower East Side. It’s in San Francisco, Boulder, and Miami; Portland, Austin, and Minneapolis. And the Mad Men? They’ve moved on, too. In the good old days—or at least as TV imagines them in the series Mad Men, which is scheduled to start its third season this summer—the pitch was about jingles, slogans, and logos; the strategy was a media buy on network TV or maybe a page in a few national magazines. “With that,” says the New York Times’s Stuart Elliott, who has been covering the industry for 25 years, “you were pretty sure you were going to reach your target audience.” But in the last decade, the idiom has exploded. Blame technology, TiVo, and a little something called the Internet. Now the pieces are being put back together to create a new paradigm. Today’s Mad Men are today’s Mod Men, if you will, creating campaigns based on guerilla marketing, symbiosis, and going viral; they talk about 360-degree branding, media agnosticism, and platform neutrality. “The industry is no longer just top-down, from the marketer to the consumer. Advertisers fear that if they come right at you, you’re just going to avoid them,” says Elliott. “And it’s bottom-up, too, with consumers deciding when to engage and able to share their opinions much more quickly. Woe is the advertiser who doesn’t pay attention.” If there’s one more striking difference from the Mad Men of then, it’s that very few of today’s—fine, pretty much none—still wear a suit, tie, polished shoes, or a fedora to work. Not to say that they don’t have style to spare. —Andrew Sessa

Brad Kay & Marty Cooke, SS+K

Much of the credit for the, shall we say, rather successful branding of Barack Obama is due to his use of new technology and his appeal to young voters. SS+K was the shop selected to handle that crucial intersection: nontraditional marketing for the under-35 set. With the guidance of partner and chief creative officer Cooke, 56, this small downtown agency created a youth registration drive on VoteForChange.com, a campaign video of Obama using his own webcam, and a series of posters based on slogans generated by young voters. “The industry is morphing as rapidly as technology is,” says Kay, the 38-year-old SS+K president and new-media whiz. Not that the firm is completely immune to certain pangs of nostalgia: After watching Mad Men, Cooke started wearing a suit and tie to work again. “A very contrarian thing,” he says, “for a creative director to do.”

Benson Hausman, Kraftworks NYC

Had it not been for a freshman-year film course, Hausman might have ended up as a financial attaché in Asia. While studying Chinese and economics at Connecticut College, he screened Imitation of Life and “was blown away by its ability to entertain and innovate while at the same time making a social statement,” he says. Hausman transferred to the communications school at Ithaca College, scored an advertising internship, and never left. Twenty years later he’s vice president and director of account management, planning, and marketing at the boutique firm KraftWorks NYC, founded by Neil Kraft, a former in-house creative director at Barneys New York, Esprit, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren. There, the 40-year-old Hausman manages relationships with clients like Smartwater, La Prairie, and Speedo at a time when emerging technologies are changing the advertising landscape. “With viral and social media, the consumer has an inherent element of control,” he says. “Clients want to know how this affects them and why it matters.”

Jeff Goodby; Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

In the 26 years since he cofounded his San Francisco–based firm, Goodby has expanded the boundaries of what advertising can be. Most recently he invented a rock band called White Gold and the Calcium Twins to make drinking milk cool for teens (it launched on MySpace and released tracks on iTunes) and debuted a campaign for the NBA playoffs, the split-screen talking heads of which became such a part of the zeitgeist that variations of the motif appeared in a Saturday Night Live sketch and on the cover of Time. But then that’s all pretty much par for the course for the man behind the Got Milk? campaign, which celebrated its 15th anniversary last November. Goodby, 57, who cites men like Frank Capra, Charlie Chaplin, and Andy Warhol as his inspirations, is ready for the future. “We are art serving capitalism,” he says, “making things that people welcome into their lives then send their friends to. That’s the new world.”

Jens Karlsson & James Widegren, Your Majesty

At a tiny new agency called Your Majesty, creative directors and cofounders Widegren and Karlsson, both 29, are carving out a niche as the kings of interactive digital media. And they are part of the latest stage in what has become a veritable Swedish invasion of New York advertising (joined by Linus Karlsson and Paul Malmström at Mother as well as brothers Pette and Calle Sjönell at BBH). “Sweden integrated the Internet into our lives quickly,” says Karlsson. “We live it, we practice it, we are in the very midst of it.” This digital immersion has served them quite well—they’ve created Web projects for Google, Yahoo!, and Cisco, as well as for less techy but no less significant brands like Starbucks and The New York Times. And as you might have guessed, they only wear black and, no, they don’t watch Mad Men.

R. Vann Graves, Uniworld Group

Graves is a company man. At least he was until last April, when he left BBDO after rising in 15 years from intern to vice president and associate creative director. Following a year-and-a-half tour of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army (for which he received a Purple Heart), Graves, 40, returned to New York and BBDO in 2006. “I had been lucky to see the agency transition from the traditional to the digital world,” he says, “but I was asking myself ‘How can I grow?’ ” Graves was approached by UniWorld Group, a pioneering shop founded in 1969 to market major brands specifically to multicultural consumers. “In the past, the diversity insight was to target a certain group by putting someone from that group into an ad,” says Graves, who handles accounts like Ford, 3 Musketeers, and Home Depot. “But now, for me, it’s about getting people together from different backgrounds to create ads that speak more broadly.”

Gerry Graf, Saatchi & Saatchi

Graf’s appointment as chief creative officer of Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, in January 2008, was a homecoming of sorts; he’d started his career as a junior intern there almost 20 years before. In between, the 42-year-old had stints at BBDO, Goodby, and, most recently, TBWA\Chiat\Day, New York, where his campaigns exhibited what he describes as his signature “odd comedy.” Case in point: a bit for Skittles depicting a guy at a dairy farm with his shirt open, exposing some udders, and the farmer yelling at him because he’s ruining the milk by eating Skittles Sour. At Saatchi that sensibility is once again on display with his “bulldozer” spot for Crest, which won a top prize at the 2008 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, the Oscars of the industry. In the ad a grinning demolition man informs a trio of beaming boys that he is knocking down their playground to build a noisy, smoky power station. The tagline? “You can say anything with a smile.”

David Droga, Duncan Marshall, Andrew Essex, Ted Royer; Droga5

When Droga, 40, launched Droga5 in 2006, leaving his spot as worldwide chief creative officer of Publicis, he did so “to prove that advertising can be more influential than we give ourselves credit for.” So far the firm’s best-known projects have done much to prove him right. The Great Schlep Web site, which featured a video starring Sarah Silverman, went viral toward the end of last year’s presidential campaign and encouraged young Jews to head to Florida and convince their grandparents to vote for Obama. But then, from the beginning Droga’s approach has been outside the lines. For talent he recruited beyond the agency world: CEO Essex, 43, a 20-year veteran of magazine publishing who held top editorial positions at The New Yorker, Details, and Entertainment Weekly. Coexecutive creative director Marshall, 40, studied law in London. Only fellow ECD Royer, 41, knew he wanted to be in advertising, citing extensive experience as a teenage couch potato.