The Virginia Historical Society held a Behind the Scenes Tour Sat.
The Virginia Historical Society held a Behind the Scenes Tour Sat. May 30 titled, “Before and After Mad Men: Advertising and the American Dream.” VHS Senior Education Specialist Evan Liddiard presented the tour to a group of Mad Men fans.
“Before and After Mad Men” examines Virginia’s role in American advertising, and how this industry both mirrored and created the ideals that make up the American Dream, according to the VHS website.
Liddiard said the idea for the tour came from his personal love of Mad Men and of Virginia history.
“Virginia history really ends up being American history,” he said. “We’re able to tell national stories with our collection.”
Outside of this tour, Liddiard is in charge of all distance learning and digital outreach at VHS.
Liddiard said he was surprised by how extensive the VHS’s collection of Virginia advertising was.
“It really became an issue of what to leave out,” he said. “A lot of what was not included was political campaign ads, which might be used for a future tour.”
A 1929 Lucky Strike cigarettes ad was included in the tour. By the time the ad came out, American Tobacco had moved to Durham, NC, but the brand was created in Richmond. Many locals are familiar with the Lucky Strike tower in the east end of town. Lucky Strike is a major client in the show and appears in the pilot episode of Mad Men.
Liddiard says the ad is significant because it is one of the earliest attempts to market to women.
“The way they choose to do it is, “Reach for a lucky instead of a sweet,’” he said. “The idea is that this is a way to maintain a trim figure.”
The early 20th century saw the shift in gendered implications of the word consumer as something feminine. Advertising tactics started to closely resemble what modern consumers think of as advertising.
“Women make the majority of daily and weekly consumption and purchasing decisions,” he said of the time. “We begin to see idealized versions of whatever life would be as ads become more visual.”
This included images of sexier women and men, but not by today’s standards. These visuals presented exotic lifestyles of women able to land whatever man she wanted by using this soap or men having a sharper style of dress by driving that Ford, themes common in 21st century advertising.
Targeting women was brought up explicitly in season two of the hit TV series, when main character Don Draper targets housewives for the Heineken account, an account that typically looks to market itself to men with stereotypes of masculinity. His own wife, Betty, is distraught when she realizes she fell for one of her husband’s tricks.
Liddiard said the show was very true to the spirit of advertising during the 1960s.
“While TVs are becoming ubiquitous, the upper middle class white society that was running Madison Avenue was still very much focused on print advertising.,” he said. “That changes throughout the show and we certainly see that changing throughout that decade.”
Check out the Virginia Historical Society’s website for upcoming monthly tours, offered one Saturday every other month.
Tours begin at 10:30 a.m. and cost $10 for VHS members and $17 for nonmembers.