From beginning to end “Field Trip” is filled with painfully awkward moments for just about everyone, including the viewer. Resentment, humiliation, and disappointment seep into everyone’s interactions. Perhaps a more appropriate title for this episode is “Guilt Trip.” Betty’s turns Bobby’s sharing of a sandwich with a needy classmate into a point of disappointment for both her and Bobby. Don’s mission of mercy to save Megan from herself in Hollywood only adds to Megan’s sense that the marriage is over. Don finally steps up to take back some semblance of control over his career and sees his much awaited, resurgent return to SC&P turn into a source of angst and anger among his partners. Then, he is forced to eat a piece of humble pie bigger than SC&P’s entire floor in the Time Life building. This mix of harsh, raw, and sometimes surreal moments is masterfully intertwined. It ends with an unexpected WTF jolt that sets the stage for the emergence of next version of Don Draper and another evolution at SC&P.
The Clios:Reality Bites
It’s Clio award time again and it looks like SC&P will have a very lean showing in 1969. Ginsberg is nominated for Playtex but nothing else has been submitted. While Peggy and her team are presenting a campaign for Chevalier Noir to Lou, the subject of the Clios comes up. First, Lou chides Peggy for letting Stan present their Chevalier idea with visuals. “You understand every hour he works costs money?” A frustrated Peggy snaps at Lou and expresses her displeasure that her Rosemary’s Baby spot for St. Joseph’s wasn’t submitted to the Clios. “Who put a knot in your pantyhose?” Lou asks. Then he dismisses Peggy by telling her that the client is still unhappy with how the budget was mismanaged and that Ted has already won enough awards for the client.
In the agency business, you can never win enough creative awards. Lou continues to offend and underwhelm with his lack of creative leadership. He clearly does not like Peggy and it becomes apparent later that Lou didn’t submit Peggy’s commercial because it happened under Don and Ted’s watch and Lou would not get the credit. 1969 was a big year for the Clios. It was their tenth anniversary and was in fact chaired by David Ogilvy. Securing David Ogilvy as the Chairman was a major coup and boosted the prestige and importance of the Clios. A number of famous campaigns for Cracker Jack, Volkswagen, Alka Seltzer, and others won in their categories. The event was even chronicled in a video review hosted by Harry Reasoner, which is well worth watching.( Click Below)
Harry Turns Lemons Into Lemonade, Maybe.
Harry Crane perceives himself as the most undervalued person at the agency and he gets the chance to vent. Jim summons Harry to the conference room to what Harry believes will be a media planning discussion with the Koss client. Instead, the client asks them to explain a New York Times article about Grey Advertising’s computer. First, Harry dismisses it as a PR move and makes his plea that it’s people, not computers that matter saying “Computers don’t think, people do.”
Sensing that his reassurances were falling flat, Harry does what any savvy media director does when backed into a corner. He “embellishes.” Harry proudly says that SC&P also has its own computer and that the agency will soon release a state of the art program that will “integrate local and national markets into one report.” This assuages the client’s concerns.
Harry angrily tells Jim that if the partners listened to his requests for more resources, the article in the New York Times could have been about SC&P rather than Grey. Jim is impressed and then demonstrates that he is clueless about the agency’s media capabilities. Harry’s eloquent handling off the Koss client leaves Jim believing the agency actually does have a computer. So, Jim does what any resourceful account man would do. He tells his contact at the Wall Street Journal to call Harry for an inside scoop on how SC&P is one-upping Grey with an even better computer resource. When Harry informs him that they don’t Jim later takes up Harry’s cause with the partners. Jim even uses it as one of the reasons not to reinstate Don at the agency. Jim emphatically states, “We need to invest in a computer, period,” and suggests that rather than investing in Don and his “creative hijinks” they should purchase the computer. A dumb idea. No sale. But, unless the partners want to loose Koss, it’s likely Harry will get a little more respect and a computer.
This computer revolution was actually happening on Madison Avenue in 1969. There was a core group of large media powerhouse agencies that were rapidly expanding their computer capabilities to keep up with their clients and help differentiate their agencies. The best known among them were Grey, Ted Bates, and the agency I worked at, Benton & Bowles. They worked with and often shared large CPG clients like Colgate, P&G, and General Foods so offering competitive media resources was essential.
In today’s world of instant high powered analysis of mountains of audience data, real time digital media deployment and sophisticated algorithms, it’s hard to imagine the almost “by hand” media planning and analysis employed in the “Mad Men” days. This was the beginning of the computer age at agencies. In 1965, my first position at B&B was an assistant media planner and I literally worked in rooms full of Nielsen reference books and calculators and I even used slide rules to develop plans, estimate reach, and frequencies and calculate CPMs. I was fortunate to be taught and mentored by media visionaries like Lee Rich, Bern Kanner, Dick Gershon, and Merrill Grant who lead this media transition. Harry is correct when he warns that SC&P must get on-board the computer train of they are to survive and thrive.
After one of his briefing calls with Dawn, Don phones Megan’s agent, Alan Silver and finds out that Megan is struggling with rejection and “acting like a lunatic.” Concerned, Don flies to LA (without having a bloody mary or a quickie with the stewardess) to offer his help. His surprise trip results in Don’s having to come clean with Megan about his forced leave of absence from SC&P, which only exacerbates Megan’s insecurities and resentment towards him. She tells Don to go back New York: “This is the way it ends.” Don returns resolved to continue on his path to redemption and take back control of his career.
His first call is to Dave Wooster of Wells Rich Greene and he says “Enough dancing around, let’s have dinner.” At the dinner Don gets handed an envelope containing the details of a lucrative offer from the agency. In true Don Draper fashion, he also gets handed a very tempting offer of sex from yet another attractive blonde (two in one episode). Instead of heading up to her room, Don heads over to Roger’s apartment to confront him with the WRG offer. After some classic Roger and Don banter Don admits that he wants to return and shouts, “How do you sleep at night? I guess you don’t remember I started that company. I had to talk you into it!” Roger shoots back, “You want to come back, come back. I miss ya.” The door is finally open for what Don expects to be, at the very least, a civil return to “his” agency.
SC&P Or The Twilight Zone?
Following Roger’s instructions Don arrives at SCP at 9AM Monday morning. It is complete surprise to everyone and it quickly becomes clear that Roger has not yet told anyone. There has been no groundwork laid and there are no welcoming open arms greeting Don as he eerily walks down the hallway. Seeing Don experience his first day back was uncomfortable to watch. This has to be one of the longest and most surreal ten hours that Don has ever spent in that office. Just about everyone is upset with his return.
Don’s first stop is his old office where he and Lou exchange a very strained and awkward greeting. Lou is furious and confronts Cutler, saying he has a two-year contract and that he will have to be paid even if he sells newspapers at the lobby newsstand. Cutler says he’ll ask Don to leave, and Lou tells him he might need to call security. Joan greets Don with surprise and immediately runs to Bert Cooper to express her anger and opposition to Don’s presence and Bert says, “He shouldn’t be here.” This is quite a cold rejection by Joan.
When Peggy finally gets the courage to see Don, she asks, “Well, are you coming back?” When Don answers yes she says, “Well, I can’t say that we miss you.” Et tu, Peggy? Just about the only people happy to see Don are Ken Cosgrove and the creative teams. The creatives huddle around Don and start asking him to provide his input on their work. They are obviously feeling demotivated by the Peggy and Lou dynamic. After Lou summons the creatives to his office, Don is forced to cool his heels and ego while he waits for Roger in the creative playroom.
A slightly tipsy Roger finally arrives around noon and calls a meeting of the partners. In a closed-door meeting everyone except Roger is opposed to Don’s return and they actually weigh the cost of bringing Don back versus buying a computer. Roger points out the folly of this discussion and reminds the partners, “Our creative isn’t visible right now.” When Cutler states, “ We already fired him,” Roger reminds them that Don is legally on a leave of absence and they would have to buy out his contract. This would cause a financial burden that would negatively affect profits for three years.
Roger goes to bat hard for Don and adds that if Don is fired they also lose the non-compete provision and they could look forward to seeing Don sitting on Mary Wells’ lap in the next new business completion. Silence. At seven o’clock Don is called into the meeting and Bert informs him that he can return but with “stipulations.” Jim, Joan, and Roger lay out a set of onerous and humiliating conditions that they are betting Don will reject and thereby release the agency from the buyout provision in Don’s contract. Don is not allowed to meet with clients alone, he has to deliver partner-approved “scripts”; he can’t drink in the office. To cap off all that humiliation Jim adds that Don will report to Lou. Like everyone else. I was waiting for Don to fire back an eloquently biting rejection, leave the meeting and meet Mary Wells for dinner. Instead Don answers with a simply profound, “OK”. Wow!
Don is back at SC&P where he and Peggy will report to Lou. He’s sort of dried out, come clean with his family, and keeping his libido in check. So, in essence, there is nothing of the old Don left. Or is there? Let the games begin.