The golden age of advertising produced such iconic campaigns as the Marlboro Man and the Jolly Green Giant, creations of men who worked in smoke-filled offices where bourbon often flowed. "You don't see office bars anymore," says Steve Romanenghi, senior vice president and executive creative director at Stern Advertising. He bought a piece of cultural history at a charity auction: an end table from Don Draper's office from the first season of Mad Men. "I knew I had to turn it into a bar," he says. "Don Draper would approve." With the final season of Mad Men returning April 5 on AMC, we catch up with Romanenghi.
Q. What was it like working at Chicago's Leo Burnett agency, where Draper Daniels flourished in the '50s and served as inspiration for Don Draper?
A. I started there in 1994, and there were still a couple of guys from the Mad Men era who were retiring, including an old Marlboro account guy. These were the last guys who did three martini lunches. They did a really good job at making you understand the history of the company.
Q. How does Mad Men compare with the real world of advertising?
A. I would love to travel back in time and experience that era, though I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to stay there. There was too much misogyny and racism for me. And the difference in business today is light-years from the Mad Men era. Hell, it's light-years from when I started in the late 1980s.
Q. What is your favorite Mad Men episode?
A. "The Wheel" from the first season. Don's speech at the end of the Kodak slide projector pitch gets to the absolute heart of what we do. We always try to make an emotional connection. The things that ring true have to come from a place that's real.