The 10 Best Ad Agencies That Never Existed
My fascination with advertising started as a kid with the flashy commercials that promised products that were never quite as cool as they looked on TV…. so whenever I got the tiniest peek in to the ad world through a fictional ad agency on a TV show– with its slogans, test markets, and crazy brainstorming sessions– I was intrigued. Little did I know at the time that the real thing isn’t always as cool as it was portrayed on TV, either.
From Lucy’s live TV commercial for “Vitameatavegamin” to The Brady Bunch holding to their moral standards when pitching “SAFE” laundry detergent, the TV ad, being portrayed within a TV show itself, knows better than to take itself too seriously. But with advertising being the huge industry that it is, for such a fascinating subject (OK, sometimes), there have been surprisingly very few long-running television shows that totally center around the crazy world of advertising.
Here is my list of the most infamous TV advertising agencies, by year. See how many of these agency names rang a bell!
“Bewitched” (1964-1972) Agency: McMann & Tate
The quintessential Madison Avenue ad man, Darrin Stevens, gave his all for his clients, without the use of his witch of a wife’s magic… nevermind the fact that the best ideas usually came from Samantha anyway. In another twist, the characters themselves were used in real TV ads.
“One Day at a Time” (1975-1984) Agency: Connors & Davenport
TV’s first realistic portrayal of a divorced working mother struggling to raise her teenage daughters. Episodes tended to revolve around time era’s stereotypical sexist issues in business like Ann’s boss having doubts about a woman’s ability to handle the job, and her constantly having to fend off clients’ advances.
“Bosom Buddies” (1980-1982) Agencies: Livingston, Gentry & Mishkin; 60 Seconds Street
The series featured Kip (Tom Hanks’ first major role), a graphic artist, and his creative partner Henry (Peter Scolari), a copywriter, who worked at an ad agency during the day but must dress in drag at night to live in an apartment building that’s just for women. Kip and Henry eventually start their own agency, Sixty Seconds Street, where they had complete (and madcap) creative control of their own productions.
“Who’s the Boss” (1984-1992) Agencies: Wallace & McQuade; Bower Agency
The title of the show refers to the clear role reversal of the two lead actors, where a woman was the breadwinner, and ultimately agency owner, and a man (although not her husband) stayed at home and took care of the house & kids. Tony Danza’s housekeeper character even helped ‘the boss’ out by starring in a soap commercial and got a rash from the product! (I’m sure that’s never happened in real life!)
“Thirtysomething” (1988-1991) Agencies: Michael & Elliott Co; DAA
The series showed the peril of an agencies’ reliance on one major client, and what happens when they lose it. This was the first time that the drama within an ad agency took center-stage in the plot of a television series. The coolest character is this series was Miles Drentell who was actually based on the famous graphic designer William Drenttel [Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide]
“Melrose Place” (1992-1999) Agencies: D&D Advertising; Amanda Woodward Marketing
There was a time when adding Heather Locklear to any flailing show was an instant lifesaver. She portrayed another strong woman ad exec in this primetime soap, providing new meaning to the phrase, “sex sells.”
“Ned & Stacy” (1995-1997) Agency: Kirkland & Haywood
Thomas Hadyden Church as Ned, an excessively orderly and fussy ad exec, marries relative stranger Stacey (Debra Messing) in order to get a promotion. Ned is initially portrayed as a self-absorbed egomaniac who will use anyone to get ahead.
“Trust Me” (2009) Agency: Rothman, Greene, and Moore
This short-lived series took place at a fictional agency in Chicago and offered an inside view of the ad game. It followed an “odd couple” of friends (Tom Cavanah & Eric McCormack) as they try to navigate the waters of inter-office politics, personality conflicts, easily bruised egos, professional jealousies, and unreasonable client demands.
“The Crazy Ones” (2013-2014) Agency: Lewis, Roberts + Roberts
Robin Williams, in his final TV role, brought his usual flair to this series loosely based on the life experiences of John R. Montgomery while he worked at Leo Burnett advertising in Chicago.
“Mad Men” (2007-2015) Agency: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce
A highly popular drama about one of New York’s most prestigious ad agencies at the beginning of the 1960s, focusing on one of the firm’s most mysterious but extremely talented ad executives, Don Draper.
Recently, with the trend of “reality TV,” came a few notable series. “The Pitch” was an unscripted cable reality show that went behind the scenes on the pressure on America’s top creative ad agencies while competing to pitch a new account. Each week two real-life agencies went head-to-head in a presentation known as The Pitch, with only seven days to prepare, in hopes of landing a real client. The only other true-to-life series is Donald Trump’s “Apprentice” competition juggernaut, which a majority of the time involve an element of advertising.
Maybe there is a reason most shows on the list are sit-coms and are based on real-life experiences at real advertising agencies. After all, truth is stranger, and funnier, than fiction!
Have a fictional agency to add to the list? Put it in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
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