Sunday, July 7, 2013

Review: Mad Women by Jane Maas

Mad Women by Jane Maas
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: February 28, 2012
Source/Format: Library book!
Page Count: 214.
Goodreads & Amazon

There isn't any denying the fact that I am a Mad Men addict. I flew through the five seasons that are available on Netflix, and so easily let myself get sucked into the world of hard-liquor drinking, cigarette-smoking, womanizing men in suits. And as handsome as those men in suits are, we barely get a glimpse into the world of the female characters on the show, and what life was like for them. Jane Maas lived the life of a female copywriter on Madison Avenue in a top notch advertising agency in the sixties. Much like Peggy Olson, she started as a receptionist, and eventually worked her way up to being one of the main voices in the 'I Heart New York' campaign that is still wildly popular. In her memoir, Mad Women she shares the ups and downs of being an Ad Woman, how advertising has changed since the sixties, and other anecdotes about her life as a women in the Mad Men-era.

"Was it really like that?" As soon as people find out that I actually worked at an advertising agency in the Mad Men era, they pepper me with questions. "Was there really that much drinking?" "Were women really treated that badly?" And then they lean in and ask confidentially: "Was there really that much sex?" The answer is yes. And no.

I minored in Marketing, and with my newfound obsession for all things Mad Men and retro, I loved Maas' recollections of advertising and the rules of it in the 1960's. Maas starts out this memoir with a day-in-the-life of a woman in an advertising agency. Her memory was spot on, so much so that it made me feel like I was reading more of a novel than an actual non-fiction memoir. In her day-in-the-life, Maas introduces us right away to the struggle of being a working mother in an age where most mom's stayed at home and doted on their children. First thing in the morning, she is also hilariously, yet sadly, mis-classified as a 'nice little secretary' when she offers to buy a colleague a cup of coffee.

Women who worked there in the sixties confided to me that more sex went on in that agency than on the television show. "It was in the air," one woman said, "you breathed it."

Maas covers everything from a woman's perspective that fans of Mad Men or advertising in general would have been dying to know. She has quotes and anecdotes from other women who worked in agencies about the sex and affairs that happened in the office, though she doesn't spill any juicy stories from her own agency at Ogilvy & Mather. She even delves into the equation of affairs, as in : promiscuous women =/= bad and punishable, but if both parties are married and the affair is considered serious, GAME ON! I enjoyed the insider look into this very big part of what happens on the television show, and the way Maas delivered these juicy tidbits made it feel like I was standing around a water cooler speaking in hushed tones with other women about the latest gossip. 

The National Organization for Women awarded me its first ever NOW award for the "Most Obnoxious Commercial of the Year Depicting Women." It was for Dove, of course, for chaining of those women to sinks. 

Maas truly achieves her goal of sharing the gender roles that we are familiar with in the sixties and how it affected her work. She is a mother who openly admits to putting her children third in her life (job first, husband second), and is constantly shaking off dirty looks from her daughter's teachers and classmate's mothers. In the advertising world, she was mostly in charge of writing advertisements for products made for and bought by women, which played into more of the stereotypes. It was eye-opening to see her struggle between being a woman, and being a business woman. 

Maas also shared failed attempts at products that she conducted focus groups for at advertising magnate Ogilvy & Mather. David Ogilvy is still a household name in advertising and has seen it's fair share of huge accounts, many of which Maas touched down on during her time there. She also shared several of her encounters with the man--known for being spunky and a little on the strange side--himself, and of his views on women in the workplace and how he handled his advertising, much of what is confessed in his own memoir, Confessions of an Ad Man (which Roger Sterling reads and then decides to pen the hilarious Sterling's Gold on Mad Men. Sterling even gripes about the book a couple of times in the series.) When she leaves Ogilvy & Mather, she goes on to work for some of the most influential women in advertising, but doesn't share many memorable events in those agencies. 

As much as I loved the insider look into the sex, drinking, and business side of advertising, Maas sometimes strayed from the content of the book. She sometimes drifts off into reverie about her patient and caring husband, and the day they met and their courtship and yadda yadda. It was sweet to read but felt out of place in her book of the advertising world. There is also the story she shares of the wedding she was coerced into planning for a mayor-to-be of New York City that was an interesting story, but again, felt out of place in this book. It seems that Maas sometimes slipped off the line of personal memoir and advertising tell-all. 

For a peek into the real life version of 1960's Madison Avenue, Mad Women delivers with hilarious and eye-opening anecdotes, though Maas' straying from the subject at hand gave the book a slightly discombobulated feel that made it feel like two books in one. 

Rating: 3 / 5 


  1. Interesting that she would write a memoir and not include some tales from her own office...I can see how easy it is for her to slip into irrelevant moments/events when she's keeping a lid on the iinteresting stuff-sounds like ineffective diversions!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Sahar! She shared a few things from Ogilvy & Mather, such as the business matters, but none of the very juicy things :) I should clarify that better!