Don Draper as rainmaker and filmmaker

Cite this Article
Larry Ribstein, Don Draper as rainmaker and filmmaker, Truth on the Market (July 27, 2010),

As I discussed a few days ago, Mad Men is back. I saw two of my themes intersecting here – law firms, and filmmakers’ portrayal of business.

Sunday’s first episode had protagonist Don Draper suffering the burdens of being the key guy in his office – what a law firm would call a rainmaker. As one of his worker bees, Peggy, says, “we’re all here because of you.”

So what does Don do? He gives an Advertising Age interview in which he disdains talking about himself, resulting in a peevish article that does nothing for the firm. When his partners criticize him, Don says, essentially, I’m an artist, not a salesman. No, his partner says: this is a business and you’re a salesman. Don’s not happy.

As for the law firm angle, at the time this show was set, the advertising industry was essentially where law firms have been until very recently. Here’s a discussion of the evolution of global ad firms from around 1980 to 2000. In the 1960s people like Don Draper could still view themselves as professionals who were insulated from the market forces that gripped commoner folk. When Peggy pulls a shady stunt that wins a client, Don is not happy – the conduct doesn’t meet his professional standards. Don boots clients out of his office because they don’t respect his art.

As for the filmmaker angle: as I’ve discussed, Mad Men’s creators are, to some extent, condemning the manipulation of modern advertising. But they evidently see Draper as an artist, caught in the same Art vs. Mammon struggle that they are.

In any event, by the end of the show, however, Don has wised up, or given in, depending on your perspective. He’s giving an interview to the Wall Street Journal that corrects the mistake he made at the beginning of the show. Apparently we’re going to see a new Don Draper.