Huffpost Fifty
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Steven C. Eisner Headshot

Why 'Mad Men' Episode Three 'Burkes' Well

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

In "Mad Men's" heyday, Don Miller, a Burke marketing leader, developed a method for measuring the effectiveness of television commercials. The Burke test said that, to be effective, a TV commercial had to grab the viewer's attention within the first 10 seconds of airing. Ad agencies quickly made the Burke Test the industry standard. If a spot passed the test, "It Burked well!" If it failed, "It didn't Burke," and the agency immediately scratched it from the rotation or, at least, reedited it with a more striking beginning. A spot that "didn't Burke" sent shudders through all ad execs of the day, because it literally meant they could lose the account. That bad!

If the Burke test remained the industry standard today, the scene in of episode three, first featuring Betty Francis' new head, easily would have "Out-Burked" every other scene in the show! Viewers, particularly males, who are used to ogling Betty's debutante visage whenever it comes into view, had to be doing double takes Sunday night when her face literally filled the screen. ("That can't be January Jones!") Her head had grown five sizes larger. What happened to the 'stunning' Betty Draper of yore? How could this be? What caused all the bulking up? Was it an eating disorder triggered by depression or boredom? When her doctor discovers a node growing on her thyroid all thoughts turn to something far more sinister: thyroid cancer -- a fear later dispelled when the doctor decrees it "benign."

In one of "Tea Leaves'" most riveting scenes, Henry Francis' mom pays pudgy Betty a visit. Mother Francis, a blimp in her own right and anything but demure or tactful, leans into Betty and utters these words: "There are things you can do about this. There are pills you can take." To which Betty replies, "Then why haven't you taken them?"

Looking through my Boomer lens and advancing twenty years into the future... I think Mother Francis would have found far less "stinging" weight-loss references to use in her 1986 playbook: "Betty, you've got to rent some of Jane Fonda's workout tapes... they're all the rage!" or "Don't worry about buying the tapes.... just turn on Richard Simmons. He's soooo adorable." Or "It's your birthday soon; let me buy you a year membership to Bally Fitness."

Back in 1966, few Jews held positions in Madison Avenue's venerable ad agencies, but as Bob Dylan had noted two year's prior, "The Times, They are a Changin'." Cut to Roger, Don and Peggy discussing returning client Mohawk Airlines' copywriting needs. Peggy jockeys to handle the account, as Roger cuts her off, "They'd expect you to make the drinks." He says a dedicated, hotshot copywriter was needed, preferably male (and, as we later learn, preferably Jewish, too). When Peggy turns up Michael Ginsberg, Roger preempts her decision making. He tells Mohawk that Ginsberg is their man.

Such changes in employment practices rarely occurred out of a sense of 'old guard' largess. Rather, those changes came, as they did at SCDP, because they were good for business. And why were Jewish copywriters suddenly in vogue? Because Doyle Dane Bernbach, under the creative direction of Bernbach, a Jew, had had been making accounts that were never all that sexy suddenly absolutely 'irresistible.' By the mid-to-late '80s, the Jews had stormed all the remaining ad industry beaches. By then, wherever a good U.S. creative agency was producing great work, a Jewish man was either a vital part of the team or the creative director.

In episode three, the Campbell-Sterling power struggle continues over re-landing the Mohawk business. Pete takes all the credit for reeling them in, even though he knows Mohawk would only return if Roger was handling their account. In an agency-wide meeting, Campbell announces the acquisition and the firm's return to greatness. He then appears to throw a bouquet, of sorts, to Roger, "He'll be running the account day to day." Then, he embarrasses him by adding "I'll know everything he does."

Campbell's attempt to undermine the ever-charming senior partner was, in Don Draper's words, "clearly disrespectful." The contrast between Campbell, an able facilitator, and Roger, the ultimate client schmoozer, comes into sharp contrast -- which is to say, Roger's stock is, once more, rising.

Twenty years later, despite Roger's client skills, he would have detonated his anticipated resurrection and brought the firm a load of litigation with two remarks he makes to Peggy Olsen. First: "Mohawk is looking for a copywriter with a penis." And second: "I think we're ready for a Jew." Do Roger's remarks "Burke?"

You bet.