Ad Age: A Spoof to Mad Men or A Dish To Women?


March has been an exciting month for women. The first  White House Council on Women and Girls was signed, March 8th marked International Women's Day and entire month is National Women's History Month. Helen Reddy's song I Am Women is dancing in my mind

  • I am woman, hear me roar
    In numbers too big to ignore
    And I know too much to go back an' pretend
    'Cause I've heard it all before
    And I've been down there on the floor
    No one's ever gonna keep me down again

And then there is the January 19, 2009 issue of Advertising Age, one of marketing's most respective trade publications. Seems to me that Ad Age has turned the clock back on the position of women in advertising with the cover of it's January 19, 2009 issue.

Ad age_3  

This was the third time Ad Age selected an A-List that recognizes ".. that success in today's agency landscape comes in a lot of different shapes and sizes."

What I find offense is not necessarily that nine out of ten of the A-List agencies are managed by men but the posturing of Linda Sawyer, CEO of Interpublic Group's Deutch.

Take a look at the composition of the illustration. Power house men in dark suites many holding drinks appear very much the good old boys club. While Ms Sawyer sits demurely to the lower left in a sweet sleeveless shift with her hands politely folded in her lap like a good school girl. She seems squeezed out of the frame .. an after thought that off balances the picture.

Or .. did I get it wrong? Was Ad Age just having some fun spoofing one of its most prestigious honors .. the Agency A-List with an illustration based on the TV show Mad Men about advertising set in the 1960's? Did Ms. Sawyer think that her spot in the illustration was no big deal but part of the joke where she seemed more secretary than CEO?

  • Oh, yes, I am wise
    But it's wisdom born of pain
    Yes, I've paid the price
    But look how much I gained
    If I have to
    I can face anything
    I am strong
    I am invincible
    I am woman


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Interesting photo, Toby. How far have we come... in the "we've come a long way, baby" slogan? Not far, according to this photo.

It's well known that the Ad agency world is not only dominated by men (of the good old boys club world - regardless of age), but that the men who dominate it still regard women as important as the-- fax machine?

Indeed, this picture depicts a nice family gathering where the 'daughter' is off to the side where she belongs, and Dad and his 'boys' are front and center because...after's a man's world.

So, it's OUR job, yours, mine and every other woman who reads this blog, to rebel outright. To get loud and in their face. To stand up the way we did in the Sixties - to grab those cigars out of their mouths and throw them to the floor, and stomp them to bitter pieces.

Angry? Maybe a little. More like - it's not YOUR world anymore - it's OUR world. We're taking it back (really, look at history - women have always, even in time of subversion, been the 'real architects of society'.

If women do not step up and rebel, really rebel, we'll see this picture again next year and the year after.

My worry is that this young woman does not feel marginalized because - as a Gen X (I think) she did not see her appearance in this picture as anything more than a chance to be present. Her dress is relevant to today's business dress, in some companies. If we cannot get the Gen X and Gen Y women on board - the advertising world will continue to swing on a man's whim, despite the fact that women command the most dollars and influence to sales.


Posted by: Yvonne DiVita on Mar 13, 2009 7:28:38 AM

Yvonne - what a powerful statement! appreciate your validation that there was something amiss in that picture. as for the dress, i love it! however,next to the power dark suits ms.sawyer appears weak.

Posted by: Toby on Mar 13, 2009 10:19:55 AM

This guy agrees that you got it exactly right, and there's more to it then you suggest. First, she's sitting on the arm of a chair holding a man who is leaning away from her. A clear sign of defensiveness or rejection. And the '60s house-wifely dress doesn't help her image at all. I love housewifes, but this woman has power and should be comfortable demonstrating her earned position.

Yvonne's last paragraph re today's generations is poignant, as well. They might not understand the struggle women have endured for 300 yrs in the US. It has been but a few short decades since women have been "permitted" into the board room, and they remain a small number yet.

The struggle continues and this photo is evidence of that. Shame on AdAge for not creating a more equal pose.

Posted by: Lewis Green on Mar 13, 2009 10:24:24 AM

Thanks for the validation, Lewis. Shame on more than Ad Age...shame on the MEN in the picture for not putting the woman front and center - and shame on her company for not taking her presence in the photo seriously enough to pair her with the right man, in the right attire.

Clothes shouldn't count - but, they do.

Posted by: Yvonne DiVita on Mar 13, 2009 10:37:57 AM


You could not be more right-on in your assessment of the Ad Age image, and we all know that an image is worth 10,000 words. Ms. Sawyer should have insisted, as the lone female of the group, that she be front and center (every creative director knows that humans like cemetery and balance, it's what attracts us to each other).

One of the main reasons I don't like the show Mad Men - nostalgia aside, do we really want to show women having to use "feminine wiles" to get what they want (pointy bras and all)? You could also say the same about the show Trust Me. The lone woman of the team is shown to be pathetically hung-up on relationships, being sweet to new comers, etc. At least this agency is headed by a woman who does seem to call the shots.

As someone who spent years working with advertisers I can only say that not commenting on images like the one in Ad Age is how we stop change. Thanks for speaking out and speaking up.

Posted by: Debra Pearlman on Mar 13, 2009 11:38:36 AM

When I saw this for the first time. I thought of design and what's going on with representative design right now. Fashion, art, etc.

I do hate the fact that it's such a throw back. I don't know why they picked mostly men, I also don't know why they decided to throw it back to a different era.

We need to move forward not back.

Posted by: Alex on Mar 13, 2009 12:05:27 PM

Toby - For me, I never could get into Mad Men although coming from the agency space, I thought I should. That for some reason it was my obligation. Yet, every time I watched it, I became sad and frustrated. Why go back to that era when we have come so far?

Yes, shame on Ad Age, although they are capitalizing on a show that is a huge hit with us agency folk. I’m more disappointed with Linda Sawyer. Did she have a reason for agreeing to this? It would be interesting to get her perspective. Have you tried to see what she thinks?

Posted by: Teresa Caro on Mar 13, 2009 12:37:51 PM

@Lewis and @Alex thanks for adding the male perspective and a reality check.

@Debra - appreciate your pov of from that of professional film maker and photographer. what was ad age thinking? see .. alex's comment i suppose

@Teresa - thanks for adding the view from a woman who has a successful career in the ad biz. excellent suggestion. it would be really interesting to understand what Linda Sawyer had in mind.

Posted by: Toby on Mar 13, 2009 1:02:10 PM

I don't mean to be cynical, but men still run the show in this world. All this hype about women's this and that gets on my nerves because it's a big pr effort to make us feel good about something that really is not. Oh sure, there are some women in key positions in business & government and we can thank Clinton, Thatcher and Albright for their contributions. They represent progress. That I do not deny. But in the end, progress is too slow; just how slow is evident in this pic. Toby did a great job, in her positive yet practical manner, of
bringing the issue to light.

Posted by: Donna Lynes-Miller on Mar 14, 2009 6:38:49 PM

@Donna - your sentiment of a "PR effort making us feel better" made me laugh and then made me think. we still have a long way to go. in my book you, along with the women who added their comments above, are making a difference. my thanks to all of you! and the guys like lewis and alex who are so supportive and understand that no matter the sex it is the talents that should be front and center.

Posted by: Toby on Mar 14, 2009 6:45:11 PM

I don't think your reaction is out of line. This photo makes me feel very uncomfortable. The positioning, the posture, the clothing, the expressions, everything about it is pretty stunning.

Posted by: Elisa Camahort Page on Mar 15, 2009 5:23:12 PM

yow! that pic's horrid! Ms. Sawyer looks like the secretary. I wonder who advised her on that particular dress--which is very un-stylish, to say the least. Style *is* important--it tells the world who you are. Her style looks very "retro," very early-mid 60's. Not a time of women's power. And while she doesn't need to be in an '80's style "power suit" with big shoulders and a red tie, she should have been wearing something less evocative of a powerless time for women.

And should have been front and center, given she's the only female. The pic just screams "you're disposable." How awful.

Posted by: Tish Grier on Mar 15, 2009 5:45:58 PM

Terrific post, Toby and your insight is spot on. Mad Men is fiction no matter how true to its time it might be. I adore the retro fashions of Mad Men but but to celebrate it as fact today is sad. And, please correct me if I am wrong, but are there also no people of color in that photo?

The message I am getting is that my voice, my perspective, my "shape and size" is not capable of nor important to quality and success according to Ad Age.

Posted by: Maria Niles on Mar 15, 2009 5:51:57 PM

If we desire to live in a world of equality, why should a woman demand to be front and center simply because she is a woman? Furthermore, aren't we buying into the very construct we're rebelling against by assuming she had no say in how she was posed or attired? I think Sawyer's perspective on the shoot is crucial to any discussion on the subject.

Posted by: AV Flox on Mar 15, 2009 7:26:01 PM

@Elisa @Tish @Maria - what's the saying .. a picture is worth a thousand words? however, without words people interrupt as they perceive the image (to be).

@AV - you made a great point. We don't know Ms. Sawyer's view. Last week I've asked a friend who works for one of Interpublic's companies if he could get Linda Sawyer's take on the picture. Haven't heard back. If anyone knows Linda Sawyer I'd love to offer her a post on Diva to tell her impressions of the shot; for Ad Age to tell theirs.

Posted by: Toby on Mar 15, 2009 9:47:20 PM

I am proud that Ad Age chose Deutsch for its prestigious A-List. As part of the publication's concept to showcase the top 10 agencies, it used the trendy Mad Men theme to illustrate the point that as much as things may have changed since 1961, much has not. The illustration was conceived by Ad Age and there was never a photo session or approval process, nor does it reflect the way I dress. If Ad Age was trying to highlight the void and lack of diversity, I am happy to help.

Posted by: Linda Sawyer on Mar 16, 2009 1:34:43 PM

@Linda Sawyer - Thanks for providing some of the back-story about the concept of the Ad Age illustration. It certainly showed that life in the agency world is still a good old boys network.

My wish would have been that the copy in the intro to the article reinforce that the shot was to demonstrate a point that there is still work to be done in terms of women taking leadership positions.

I would also love to see Ad Age profile you as a strong woman who is making significant cracks in that glass ceiling. I think it is important for young women especially to know that times are changing, be it slowly, and that there is opportunity (and positive role models) at the c-suite for them.

Congrats! to Deutsch for being part of the Ad Age A-List. And congrats! also goes to you for your leadership of the agency. By the way, I do like that dress.

Posted by: Toby on Mar 17, 2009 2:23:04 AM

interesting photo.thanks


Posted by: Annie on Mar 19, 2009 11:11:23 AM

Thanks for posting these useful information. Keep them coming

Posted by: Simonn on Mar 21, 2009 9:12:26 PM

AdAge should have had 2 photos. The second photo could be "tomorrow's mavericks and mavens", or "international trend setters" or even the same folks in a modern high tech setting. I was as stunned to see the liquor bottle and lack of diversity - even if it is the reality, the image conveys a stale dusty perspective.
- Andrew

p.s. I vote for a character limit on comments, too.

Posted by: Andrew on Apr 3, 2009 2:41:16 PM

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