Forty years in the world of advertising provided Don Spector with entertaining stories just asking to be told. The success and interest in the TV show, Mad Men, inspired Spector to write his real-life Mad Man stories for readers to enjoy. His Memories serve to negate or corroborate the legends of Madison Avenue.
Spector started his career as a junior copywriter and finished as the owner of his own ad agency. In between, he served as creative director at BBDO/West and a similar position at Foote Cone Belding/Los Angeles. He served on high-profile accounts that included ARCO, Absolut Vodka, Bristol-Myers and S.C. Johnson.
Q: What drove you to write your memoir, MEMORIES OF A MAD MAN?
Don Spector: I had been telling people about my adventures as a copywriter in advertising for years and they always seemed to enjoy hearing them. Then one day I made an amazing connection: I had all these stories in me and I had been writing commercials and ads for decades. Why not write them and put them all down together in…oh, what do they call it? Oh, yes…a book!
And the cherry on the whipped cream was the TV show Mad Men. It made my world of advertising fascinating to millions of people and the fact that I actually worked on Madison Avenue and started when the show’s story started could make my stories even more interesting. The result was MEMORIES OF A MAD MAN.
Q: How did you choose the anecdotes to include in your book?
Don Spector: From my four decades in advertising I had so many stories to tell it was difficult to choose. My big breakthrough came when I decided to have each chapter cover a particular aspect of advertising. That decision helped me enormously by helping me divide up my stories into categories that I thought would interest my readers.
So, for instance, when I thought drinking would be interesting to my readers I had more than enough of those stories, both humorous and tragic, to tell. Once I decided on my chapter subjects like casting commercials, truth in advertising and music I could then choose those stories that were most humorous, most interesting and most dramatic.
Once I began that, I knew my book would not just be a random collection of anecdotes but a coherent and hopefully interesting look at my world of advertising… the period of the Mad Man.
Q: Why will your readers care about your experiences in advertising?
Don Spector: The experiences I tell about capture the real world of advertising at the time the storyline of Mad Men started. My book lets people compare what happened on the show with the real advertising world that I lived in. How close did the show come to the reality? In some parts it was dead accurate. In others the story modified reality for good dramatic purposes. Which was which? Hopefully my book will help readers tell the difference.
Q: Reviewers say that MEMORIES OF A MAD MAN is a “readable fun book.” How do you make it fun? Why is it readable? How important is humor to telling your story?
Don Spector: I'm very pleased readers have called this a readable book. Since I earned my living as a writer for over 40 years I would hope that my book was readable.
Humor was very important in writing my book because humor played a major part in my career. I learned early that humorous advertising could stop people so they get your message and I used it to sell everything from Bristol Myers’ nasal spray (“Winterize your nose with anti-sneeze.”) to extra legspace on airplanes (“You get 3 feet for your 2 legs on Western Airlines.”)
Humor also can make advertising more memorable. Think of the TV commercials you talk about the day after the Super Bowl. Most of them are humorous. I used humor in this book not just as a writing style but also because so many of the stories I recalled were humorous in themselves. Advertising can be a tension-filled profession and smiles and laughter can lighten the load. It's serious business when you're standing in front of a client showing them advertising you've created that you’re asking them to spend millions of dollars on. The smiles I often used in those situations helped make the sales. In writing the book I used humor to help make the smiles.
Q: How different is advertising today than when you started in the 1960s? Has it improved or degenerated?
Don Spector: Advertising today is monumentally different from what it was in the 1960’s. As an example, our son is an executive in a major ad agency and when he starts talking about what’s going on in his agency, after about 32 seconds I have no idea what he’s talking about. Where we worked to be impactful and creative in our advertising and looked for results in terms of increased sales, today a major part of advertising is a numbers game going after good statistics like how many people clicked on your internet ad or analyzing what search terms did people use to find your website.
It obviously works well but a great deal of the fun and glamour of the old ways has been lost. Example: when I was working in New York agencies, if it was winter and I wanted to go to warm, lovely California, I’d write a commercial that had palm trees in it. A week later I’d be sipping champagne in First Class on a plane bound for L.A.
Today if I did it, they would shoot the tropical scenes in a New York studio and then later lay in the palm trees by computer. Not quite as much fun for me.
About Don SpectorStarting as a junior copywriter in a Madison Avenue ad agency in the ‘60s, Don Spector qualifies as a genuine Mad Man. Creating advertising for the agency’s high-profile accounts like Smirnoff Vodka and Tareyton cigarettes, he began his ascent up the creative ladder in several New York agencies. His commercials and print ads for advertisers like Xerox, the Yellow Pages and Jaguar ultimately led to an offer of a key position in Los Angeles-based BBDO/West where he was soon named Creative Director. After moving to a similar position at Foote Cone Belding/Los Angeles, he eventually started his own agency where he served until his retirement. The advertising he created for dozens of companies like ARCO, Absolut Vodka, Bristol-Myers and S.C. Johnson won numerous awards. But, more importantly, it generated millions of dollars in sales for them.
About MAD MEN
Don Spector didn’t just watch them on television. He was one of them.
Starting in a Madison Avenue ad agency in the ‘60’s, he actually lived the life captured in the TV show. In "Memories of a Mad Man" he shares with us an unforgettable era filled with humor, brilliance, wonderful heroes and big, bad villains.
The funny and fascinating stories he tells uncover the reality of the ad world behind the show.
• What was it like dealing with celebrities of the era?
• How did the advent of computers spoil one of the greatest boondoggles that Mad Men—and Mad Women—enjoyed?
• The Three Martini Lunch. True or false?
• What's the real truth about truth in advertising?
The book answers these and many more intriguing questions in this unique look into a unique profession.
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