Jane Maas has had a long and storied career in advertising that began in the days glorified in “Mad Men” and continues today. She started as a copywriter at Ogilvy and Mather, was a creative director at Wells Rich & Greene, president at Earle Palmer Browne and even ran her own agency. She’s worked with some of the most famous names associated with advertising – David Ogilvy and Mary Wells Lawrence to name only a few – as well as some of the most infamous (I’m looking at you, Leona Helmsley). She’s been Advertising Woman of the Year, won 47 creative awards, raised two children, and written five books – including “How to Advertise” with Ken Roman, and “Mad Women”, which we reviewed here. She was kind enough to sit down with us and expand on some of the ideas in “Mad Women” and even speculate a little about the future.
When we’re working, we tend to think about hitting deadlines and juggling the immediate demands of the day, and don’t often have a moment to lift our heads to see the big things changing until we look back. So, looking back now, what surprises you? That is, when you think back on various times in your career, what aspect, what person, what media, what development, makes you say “man, I wish I’d paid more attention to that” or “boy, I had no idea THAT was going to be such a big deal”?
That’s an interesting observation because I think it’s true – I don’t think we’re a very introspective industry. I think we’re like Alice in Wonderland, running hard to stay in place. As a result, I don’t think we tend to look back, we tend to believe that “Everything that was done before was old and boring” – which is rubbish, of course. In fact, the only person who was learning from the past was Ogilvy.
I think that’s true, but now you can look back. And since you were in advertising at a time of tremendous change you saw a lot of fads, a lot of trends, a lot of change. Was there anything you wish you’d paid a little more attention to at the time, anything that in retrospect you wish you’d focused on a little bit more than you did?
Yes, definitely. INSIGHTS. Every once in a while we would trip over one, but we didn’t know enough to LOOK for them. Now every agency has a whole floor of people digging into consumer insights, but for us, well, every once in a while we’d stumble across one and it would galvanize our conversations. In the workshops I do, I really emphasize ways to make insights a more central part of what we do. Remember, Louis Pasteur said: “Chance falls upon the prepared mind.”
For the young person who wants to get into advertising today, there’s VCU, the Portfolio Center, the Miami Ad School and sophisticated programs at universities all across the country – all these institutions that will teach you about advertising. But in your day, and even mine, the path was less structured, more, shall we say, chaotic. I’m not going to ask you which is better, but I am going to ask you if you think there are certain qualities that make for a great creative?
I think there’s really only one quality but it’s absolutely essential, and that’s INSATIABLE CURIOSITY. To the point of madness. You will recall of course that David Ogilvy was a great believer in immersing one’s self in the research – well, the only people who are going to be willing to do that regularly are people who naturally curious.
One of the challenges that I have noticed today, however, is that it’s more difficult to be curious because there’s so much less time. We didn’t have enough time then, but we had more than we do now. There’s so much less – everything is needed in minutes. And part of what’s driving it is this belief that rather than giving two people an hour, you can get ten people together for ten minutes and come up with something brilliant. But it just doesn’t work that way.
women in business
Especially in the sections of the book dealing with the 1970s, there are three very distinct women executives featured in Mad Women – you, Mary Wells Lawrence and Leona Helmsley. All very successful, all completely different. Now, while no one in their right mind would try to force, say David Ogilvy to act like George Lois, I have to believe that there was some effort, or at least expectation, that all women executives would act the same way. It was the nature of the times. But exactly what was that expectation? What was the standard or template you were expected to conform to, when did you first feel it, and when, if ever did you feel it start to break or evolve?
I wasn’t expected to conform; I don’t think women in business were expected to act in any certain way. There were stereotypes, of course. That we would cry if criticized. That we would use sex to get to the top. But most intelligent men did not hold them.
We reviewed Pat Tierney’s Ladies of the Avenue in 2012 and her observations about how the old guard at agencies didn’t want anything to do with TV and how they fobbed it off on the youngsters who, as she described it, sort of made it up as they went along. And that sounded stunningly similar to the way social media, web, and online marketing in general developed in the past ten to twenty years. Especially the part about how the new media eventually took over advertising, leaving the old guard out in the cold – and not a little bitter that they’d essentially handed the keys to the kingdom over to a bunch of punk kids. Not only were you there while this was happening, but you’re also an astute observer of the current industry. Is the comparison apt or are there important differences?
I didn’t read “Ladies of the Avenue”. But there was a dichotomy at Ogilvy between the creatives in TV and everything else. David Ogilvy loved print and the older folks were the elite; they were his pets. As for me, well, Ogilvy needed a TV person, I’d been working on a TV quiz show, so they hired me.
However, today’s “old guard” has read history, and learned a lesson about being left out in the cold. They are making it their business to understand social media and such. They are not instinctive about it like the kids, but they are more disciplined about it, and are arriving at rules and guidelines to make it more effective.
Every six months some publication announces the death of advertising, or of the television commercial, or of advertising agencies, or of some other damn thing. You can almost set your watch to it. Why is this so? And what does it say about an industry that is so quick to trumpet it’s own demise? Has it always been thus or is this some new development?
Wasn’t the world supposed to end last year? It’s human nature. There have always been cassandras, and doom is decreed in lots of categories. When television arrived, “they” predicted the demise of radio. When the internet came, “they” said television was dead. Now that everyone is texting, the death of email is forecast. Back in 1976, Ken Roman and I wrote “How to Advertise” and the preface is called “Will there still be advertising” because people were forecasting its death even then! Of course, I am happy to report that both advertising and the book are still around…
You can read our review of Jane’s book here, or order it from Amazon here or from Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here). Or you can reach out directly to Jane here.
Illustration of Jane Maas by the brilliant Mike Caplanis