Most helpful positive review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The Madness of Madison Avenue
on 23 July 2010
The title of this book suggests that the reader is going to get lots of laughs, particularly at politically incorrect jokes. This is exactly what the book delivers. In addition it provides an insider's insight into a particular period (the sixties mainly) into the ultimate consumerist industry, namely advertising.
The title actually comes from a cod slogan which the author suggested as a headline in a campaign.
Femina does not produce a consistent picture. He starts by saying that the image of the drunken, pill-popping, bed-hopping "Mad Men" of the advertising industry is a gross exaggeration. He then goes on to tell many anecdotes which almost entirely reinforce this image.
The majority of the book reads as if we are listening to Jerry holding court in his favourite Madison Avenue bar. This is both a strength and a weakness. Whilst this style is mostly engaging, from time to time (just like anyone who holds court in a bar) he does tend to lose the place and ramble off into areas which appear largely irrelevant and even occasionally a bit boring.
Every now and again Femina really does manage to hit the mark. He does this well in his chapter on fear where he describes the insecurities felt by many in the advertising industry; fears which will resonate with many of us in this post credit crunch age.
One area where Femina produces a particularly cogent argument is in the chapter on censorship. Here he adopts a libertarian stance and rails against the controls exerted upon him by the American equivalent of the Advertising Standards Authority and the TV networks. He argues that advertisers should be the only ones to decide on content and that this should only be controlled by the market; that is bad adverts or those which simply do not appeal will fail to sell products. Some of this shows that the book is a wee bit dated (remembering it was originally published in 1971), for example his defence of cigarette advertising. However, he very wittily shows the absurdities of industry association controls through a story where a child in an advert fires a machine gun from atop a mound of dirt. The "authorities" insist that the advert must indicate that the mound of dirt is not supplied with the gun, whilst completely ignoring the inherent violence of the advert.
The dated feel of the book is also evident in much of the language and social attitudes portrayed. Femina is clearly surprised (and frankly sniggers a bit) when he finds an acquaintance is gay. The language that is used is very much of its time and I cannot repeat it here.
Despite these limitations this is an excellent read, particularly for anyone who wants to get some feel for the reality behind the TV series "Mad Men". I suspect that many of the anecdotes have a deal of embellishment but they remain entertaining nonetheless. The book provides a fascinating glimpse of another era.