Admen, Mad Men, and the Real World of Advertising: Essential Lessons for Business and Life

Admen, Mad Men, and the Real World of Advertising: Essential Lessons for Business and Life

by Dave Marinaccio


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628725728
Publisher: Arcade
Publication date: 11/03/2015
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Dave Marinaccio worked for J. Walter Thompson, Foote Cone & Belding, Bozell Worldwide, DMB&B, and others before cofounding LMO Advertising, which has grown to a multimillion-dollar company with national reach. He is the author of the international bestselller All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek. An irregular contributor to News Channel 8 in Washington, DC, he has written and spoken about advertising in the media and lectured in venues as diverse as the Smithsonian Institution, college campuses, law firms, and Star Trek conventions. He resides in Washington, DC, with his wife, Leslie, and three cats.

Read an Excerpt

Admen Mad Men and the Real World of Advertising

Essential Lessons for Business and Life

By Dave Marinaccio

Skyhorse Publishing

Copyright © 2015 Dave Marinaccio
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62872-621-3


That's going to leave a mark

Simon was a smart little mixed breed, black with a white patch on his chest. He loved to be walked. All dogs do. As a kid, one of my jobs was to take Simon to do his business.

On our strolls through the neighborhood, Simon and I passed nice houses with tidy lawns that had been manicured by elderly Italian men. These small patches of grass had been sweated and fretted over. Each blade was uniformly cut, the borders were neatly trimmed — they seemed flawless.

Simon, however, always felt something was amiss. The solution was quick at hand, or at paw. He would bound up to the nearest bush and lift his rear leg. A short tinkle later, all was right with the world. Simon had made his mark. This action was repeated house after house, all the way down the block.

I happened to recall these walks with Simon just before a meeting with Weyerhaeuser, the forest products giant. On that morning I was to present a new corporate brochure to their largest division. As odd as it sounds, a brochure can draw more scrutiny than a television campaign. Today's presentation had drawn a crowd; the room was filled with clients.

"Good morning," I began and then retold the story about my walks with Simon. As I concluded my remarks, more than one face wore a puzzled look.

I continued, "The reason I'm sharing this story with you is because at some point this morning you will know exactly how Simon felt. You will look at a sentence and feel compelled to add a comma. You will be gripped by the overwhelming need to change the word 'a' to the word 'the.' These types of changes, gentlemen, are marks." I paused to a few smiles and nods.

"On other occasions," I went on, "you will have real, meaningful changes to make. Please, speak up. Tell me what they are, and we will integrate them into the brochure. Your input is desired. It is needed to produce a piece that accurately reflects this division. However, I am asking you to edit yourself. A lot of people have worked very hard to create the piece that we will examine today. All I'm asking is that you don't piss all over it."

The room erupted in laughter. We worked very efficiently that morning with a high spirit of cooperation.

Marking isn't unique to advertising. We all have a little of Simon the dog in us. The overwhelming urge to tweak, adjust, clarify, tighten, sharpen or fine-tune exists wherever a pen is put to paper. Doctors, lawyers, MBAs, PhDs, clients, agencies, cops, criminals, birds and bees all do it.

Over time, I've come to see marking as the most powerful force in nature. To try to stop this behavior is folly. You have a better chance of stopping Hugh Grant from blinking.

So what's to be done? If you cannot prevent a behavior, you should try to turn it to your advantage. Expect your work to be marked by clients. Encourage it. That's actually what I was doing at the Weyerhaeuser meeting. Once the client marks your storyboard or print ad or landing page, he has put part of himself into the ad. It gives him a sense of ownership.

My old partner Ron Owens didn't look at marking as peeing on the ad. He always said that the client was sprinkling the ad with holy water, giving it his blessing. Either way, Ron's or Simon's, you get a little wet.


What's on the bottle is more important than what's in the bottle

Selling perfume is like selling snake oil. Splash on this magic elixir, and suddenly you'll be attractive and desired. You will be transformed into Heidi Klum or Claudia Schiffer. Plunk down your money and change your life.

Put the same perfume in two different bottles, and you can sell it for two different prices. Selling perfume is as close to pure advertising as you can get. What's on the bottle is more important than what's in the bottle.

I cut my advertising teeth selling fragrance. That's if you consider Jovan to be fragrant. We were the Kmart of the fashion world. The products had names like Musk Oil, Sport Scent, Man, Woman and Sex Appeal. Subtle stuff like that.

The company had been started by a guy named Bernie Mitchell. When he decided to enter the perfume business, he looked at the successful players in the market. Two of the biggest were Revlon and Avon. So he created the name Jovan.

We were grateful that he stopped following Charles Revson's lead with the name of his company. After all, Revson had named one of the most successful perfumes in history after himself, "Charlie." If Mitchell had followed suit, we would have been trying to sell a perfume called "Bernie."

Bernie Mitchell's company did well. Jovan became very profitable. They hired J. Walter Thompson as their advertising agency.

Jovan was a fun account to work on. We were selling sex, plain and simple. That was great for me. As a twenty-five-year-old, I knew nothing of style, fashion or fragrance, but thanks to the generosity of women at the University of Connecticut, I knew about sex.

I was also learning about selling the benefits of a product rather than its features. This is a primary tenet of good advertising.

If you are describing a product, its smell, its taste, its ingredients, then you are talking about features.

If you are communicating how a product will make life better for the person who uses it, you are selling benefits.

Convincing someone that putting on a certain perfume will enhance their chances of having intimate relations with a member of the opposite sex is selling the benefit of that perfume. It's a better selling strategy than telling someone the perfume smells like jasmine.

Selling benefits works regardless of the product. Here's a story that Wally Armbruster told me. Wally ran the Budweiser account at D'Arcy McManus Masius in St. Louis for years. He had a long, successful career as an adman. The story is loosely paraphrased.

A man walks into a hardware store and asks to see the drill bits. The storeowner is quite proud of his extensive selection of bits and begins to describe the models he has for sale. One is made of titanium. Another has a special groove design. A third has a magnetic tip for holding screws. The owner wraps up his pitch by asking the customer, "Do you know which drill bit you want?"

"Oh, I don't really want a drill bit," the customer replied. "I want holes."

Advertisers ignore this lesson all the time. That's why you see ads that tout the speed of software, when you should be seeing ads that advertise finishing the job in half the time.

Pay heed. Customers buy benefits. Companies that advertise benefits will outsell those that advertise features.

While this observation seems self-evident, it's not. Highly trained advertising brand managers making six-figure salaries commonly ignore this obvious truth. They believe a large picture of their product on a magazine page will prove endlessly fascinating to the great American public. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Perhaps this is the real reason we're called Mad Men.

As an unscrupulous adman, I have created and run ads that laud features rather than benefits. A person in my position can only recommend a course of action. When the client prefers a different course, putting up too much of a stink will brand you as an obstructionist. Such a person could be kicked off the account or even lose the account for the agency. So I do what I am told. You may perceive me as a spineless jellyfish, but I am an employed spineless jellyfish. This is why people in advertising drink so much.

The thing about perfume is that it doesn't have benefits. We had to create them out of thin air. This made Jovan the perfect incubator for my career. I was taught one of the most important lessons in advertising. One I use every day. Sell benefits not features.

Personally, I don't wear fragrance very often. I don't want to be transformed into Heidi Klum or Claudia Schiffer. Besides, I can't walk in heels.


Can you TIVO doomsday for me?

I wanted to talk about TIVO before it becomes obsolete. Replaced by DVRs or whatever comes next.

A friend asked me if I felt that the invention of TIVO would put my job in jeopardy. Prior to him asking, I hadn't given it a thought. I turned the question around and asked how he heard about TIVO. You guessed it, he saw a television commercial.

When radio became popular in the early twentieth century, some felt it signaled the death of newspaper advertising. The new medium offered sound, rapt audiences and immediacy. There was no way newspapers could compete. They were doomed.

When television came along a few decades later, many felt the dollars would flow out of radio advertising into the new medium. On TV, advertisers could show their products, they could even give demonstrations. There was no way radio could compete with the exciting new visual medium. The radio advertising business was doomed, doomed I tell ya.

By the 1970s, the three networks had become saturated with ads. Television time was so expensive that the standard sixty-second TV spot had been replaced by the thirty-second spot. Fifteen-second commercials were gaining traction and even ten-second spots began to appear. Commercials had turned into little more than audiovisual billboards. The people who wrote commercials were doomed.

Then came cable. Suddenly, there was plenty of room for even hour-long infomercials. But what was good news for copywriters was certainly bad news for the networks. Cable let brand managers find niche audiences that matched their product's demographic very cost effectively. Broadcasting had given way to narrow casting. The networks were doomed!

Almost simultaneously, videocassette machines and tapes showed up. Many thought this would end television as we knew it and doom the advertising industry. Soon enough, videotapes, and later laser discs, began to arrive with advertising on them.

Then TIVO arrived. It could simply wipe out commercials. Finally, the advertising industry would bite the dust.

To make things worse, the internet is threatening to replace television completely. Weird thing though: one of the most popular things on the internet is newspapers. Isn't that where we started?

Well, excuse me if I'm not all a-Twitter. As Mark Twain said, "The stories of my death are greatly exaggerated."

Just in case there is any confusion, advertising isn't going anywhere. Advertising abides. It is and will be part of your life until the sun expands past the orbit of the earth in five billion years. We adapt, adjust, change, evolve, mutate, transform and just plain endure. Kill us and we will return from the dead in the sequel. We're zombies.

Jason Voorhees has nothing on us. In fact, I know a media director who is trying to buy ad space on Jason's hockey mask. It's the perfect aperture for a machete company. And wouldn't Freddie Kruger be a superb pitchman for Lee Press-On Nails?

Advertisers are no longer content to sponsor the programs. Once, we were happy to be the frame around the picture. Not anymore. Now we are demanding to be part of the show.

In the biz, it's called product placement. And it is a tsunami. Soon, viewers will be watching programs with more logos than a NASCAR fire suit.

Why should Scott Bakula drink a cup of coffee when he can enjoy a cup of Folgers? Better yet, shouldn't the entire cast of NCIS: New Orleans meet in Starbucks every morning? You think those oversized Coke cups on American Idol were bad? Just wait.

Believe you can escape to Netflix? Try counting the number of brand mentions next time you binge watch.

Product placement is a new arrow in our quiver, but the old arrows still shoot straight and true. Well, straight and true may not be the correct expression when we're talking about advertising, but you will get the point.

We will continue to bombard you with print, radio, television and internet ads. And prepare for lots of new stuff. In advertising circles we know what the plus in Google+ really stands for. It means Google plus a lot of ads.

There were ads in ancient Rome and in Shakespeare's London. Eventually, there will be ads on the moon. They might come through a smartphone or an Xbox or an iPad. I, for one, wouldn't be a bit surprised if they were delivered by a distant descendent of TIVO.


Advertising in an economic downturn

Ever hear of Moxie? Not many people have. At one time, it was the largest-selling soft drink in America.

So how did a brand that was bigger than Coca-Cola disappear from grocery shelves and consumer consciousness? It is an illuminating and cautionary tale for anyone who manages a brand.

The fact that Moxie ever achieved its lofty position is a story in itself. I've tried Moxie. Its flavor is awful, bitter with a strong aftertaste. I wanted to spit it out. Which begs a second question: how could such a terrible tasting drink have enjoyed so much success in the first place?

Both the rise and fall of Moxie can be attributed to advertising. The brand was one of the first to be introduced into the New York market. Being first, then and now, counts for a lot. Heavy advertising promoted Moxie. They had an early version of mobile billboards and a catchy jingle.

It worked. Being first, launching in the nation's largest market and having few viable competitors didn't hurt either.

Anyway, Moxie was out there kicking butt UNTIL ... the great sugar shortage of 1919. Suddenly, one of the main ingredients in its formula leapt in price. Fearing higher prices, and to ensure the steady production of their soft drink, the company purchased huge amounts of sugar.

In many ways this is not unlike what happened with oil in 2008. That summer, the cost of oil went through the roof, soaring as high as $142 a barrel. Some companies, in an effort to stabilize their price for oil and to ensure their supply for the following winter, locked in the price at that very high number.

Unfortunately for oil buyers in 2008 and sugar buyers in 1919, the prices fell as quickly as they rose. Companies that had locked in the higher prices had locked out higher profits. To improve the balance sheet, Moxie decided to make some cuts. They cut — don't do it — their advertising budget.

The results were swift and dramatic. Sales plummeted. But the company managed to survive and, after resuming advertising, was soon flourishing again.

One might assume that this adventure, or more accurately, non–ad-venture, taught the folks at Moxie the importance of marketing. In this case, one would be wrong.

A decade later, the stock market crash began the Great Depression. Budgets were squeezed. Companies had to make tough decisions.

Moxie once again cut its ad budget. You know who kept advertising through those very lean years? Coca-Cola. And by the end of the Great Depression, Coke had emerged as the No. 1 selling soft drink in America.

Moxie didn't die. It survives to this day. You can still occasionally stumble across a dust-covered bottle sitting on a shelf. Anti-climactically, in 2005 Moxie became the Official Soft Drink of Maine. I am not joking.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the economy continues its cycle of expansion and recession. Companies grow and shrink. And somewhere, out there in the advertising universe, an ad budget is coming under scrutiny. Hopefully someone in the room has heard of Moxie.


J. Walter after dark

As a young copywriter, I used to wander the halls of J. Walter Thompson at night looking for lighted offices. Lights meant two things, someone working late and alcohol. I wanted to find both.

People who are toiling into the evening will accept help from anybody, even a junior writer. In this way I got to work on almost every account in the agency. These nocturnal treks built my portfolio. The first ads I ever had produced were a series of small space newspaper ads for 7•UP. I wasn't assigned to 7•UP at the time. Prowling the corridors after hours provided the opportunity.

Some nights, I would stumble across bull sessions. These sessions were usually propelled by alcohol. I would come in and ask if the participants were working late and if they needed help. This Good Samaritan gesture would be responded to with an invitation to join the group and have a beer. I would respond in the affirmative.

Occasionally, substances slightly less legal than alcohol were being consumed. I would respond affirmatively in those cases as well.

One such occasion took a twist that had me rethinking my chosen occupation. A small group had congregated in a group creative director's corner office. This was a big break. Getting in the good graces of a creative director was a wise career move.

I walked into the office and asked, "Do you guys need any help?" The not-so-subtle odor of marijuana had already given the answer. "Not really." The great man said, "C'mon in."

Along with the creative director, an art director and a senior writer were in the office. There was also a bottle of Jameson on the desk. "Want a drink?" "Sure." I replied. I've never been a big whiskey drinker, but this was too good to pass up. Sitting around with some senior guys getting a little drunk was heady stuff.


Excerpted from Admen Mad Men and the Real World of Advertising by Dave Marinaccio. Copyright © 2015 Dave Marinaccio. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


That's going to leave a mark,
What's on the bottle is more important than what's in the bottle,
Can you TIVO doomsday for me?,
Advertising in an economic downturn,
J. Walter after dark,
How did I get here anyhow?,
What is an advertising agency?,
What is a brand?,
Do you know Dick?,
Ethical advertising,
Make the logo bigger,
Killing days and buying days,
Influencers of purchase decision,
Zero tolerance,
Clients get the advertising they deserve,
What's in a nameplate?,
Intelligence at play,
Hard softballs,
Life is a contact sport,
What do you do for a living?,
The award for the best award show goes to ...,
Hanging in there,
Resetting to zero,
Do you need a Hispanic advertising agency?,
Mr. Humble,
Segmenting your audience,
External forces,
Stupid human tricks,
Leaping to conclusions,
Unfocused groups,
The United Stated Holocaust Memorial Museum,
Render walkabout,
The mission is based on good nutrition,
McDonbel, McDouglas, McDonald's,
The Y2K bug,
Your audience is not naked,
The English accent,
Left brain/right brain,
Everybody gets fired,
Everybody loses accounts,
Is perception reality?,
No battle plan survives contact with the enemy,
Subliminal advertising,
No one hums the announcer,
The Big Idea,
Big Data,
Small agencies,
The lowest form of advertising,
Werner Heisenberg,
Every job is a job,
All business is personal,
Your true agenda,
One last thing,

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Admen, Mad Men, and the Real World of Advertising: Essential Lessons for Business and Life 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good value on Nook when on sale for 1.99. Otherwise, I think the title is somewhat misleading. Maybe a good match for inexperienced young people or students just starting out in the advertising industry.
TheAgencyReview More than 1 year ago
There are a many ways that you can tell if someone really understands advertising - though they’re probably not what you think they are. For example, you can’t tell by the number of awards they have on their shelf. You can’t tell by the way they dress (client expectations to the contrary) or by the names they drop in conversation, or by the obliqueness of their references to Mad Men. No, in my experience, the best way to be sure you are talking to someone who really understands advertising, who really gets what it can do, what it can’t, how it works, how it doesn't, and why it’s, on occasion, remarkable, is by their articulation of a handful of simple, often unpleasant, observations about this business. Observations borne out of years of experience and close attention to the actual business of this business. Observations that would make a lesser person cynical to the point of abandoning this industry for something less frustrating and more rewarding. Observations like: “Astonishingly, many bad and banal ideas work. Not because they are bad or banal but because advertising works. Good advertising works better than bad advertising, but bad advertising works better than no advertising.” Or like this: “Alas, the agency will not change the bad client. More likely, the bad client will change the agency. But it will all come down to the same thing. The client will get exactly the work they deserve.” Or perhaps most importantly this: “That’s the difference between an ad and advertising. Anyone can write an ad. What they can’t do is write an ad on deadline, on budget, with sales going down, the client all over your back, the phone ringing, and you need to have an idea, NOW. Then tomorrow, when everything you have done is rejected, resetting and delivering a fresh approach.” The person who understands those things is someone you should entrust your advertising to. And based on what he’s written in Ad Men, Mad Men & the Real World of Advertising (from which we have been quoting), it would appear that Dave Marinaccio is one of those people. Marinaccio began (to read the rest of this review, please visit