Confessions Of A Mad Man: Cheap Booze And Expensive Women

Confessions Of A Mad Man: Cheap Booze And Expensive Women

In his tell-all memoir, author George Parker holds forth about what it's really like to work in the steamy ad world, as popularized by AMC's Mad Men. All it's cracked up to be? Read to find out.

George Parker
  • 12 september 2011

The latest installment in our series of extracts from George Parker’s new book, ‘Confessions of a Mad Man.’ One of the few surviving ‘Mad Men,’ George Parker has lived through more than forty decadent years in the world’s second oldest profession. He’s seen it all and done it all. And a great deal of what he’s done would make the TV show, ‘Mad Men,’ look like Sesame Street. Unless Kermit is caught in flagrante with Miss Piggy on the PBS boardroom table. Ah, the good old days… Sex, drugs, rock & roll… It’s advertising as you always imagined it.

My favorite B&B client was Heublein, which was one of the biggest distillers in the US. Their best-known brand was Smirnoff vodka, but they had dozens of others, from high-end imports to nasty, low-proof, canned cocktails aimed at teenagers who took coolers of the stuff to the beach so they could get their girlfriends shit faced and have their evil way with them. I ended up on the account by default because the agency had run out of Creative sacrificial lambs to work with the world’s worst client, Jack Martin, Heublein’s Marketing Director. This was a guy who had the power of life and death over the agency. I’ve had the misfortune to work with way too many of these wankers over the years, but Jack was an absolute fucking douchenozzle. If he didn’t like an ad, he would spit on it, rip it to pieces, throw it on the floor and jump on it. Rumor has it he once murdered an ad by stabbing it to death with the German SS dagger he kept on his desk. In desperation, the agency decided to throw me at the problem, because apparently Jack’s wife was English. They hoped he might go easy on me if I laid on the Brit-Chat.
I was introduced to Jack and he must have taken a shine to me, because when the suits invited him to lunch, he insisted I be included. So, we descended on 21, one of New York’s landmark eateries. Now, when I said Jack had a reputation for being a pig, it wasn’t just for the way he abused the agency. In actual fact, Jack looked remarkably porcine. He was overweight, had a big red face with tiny eyes, and a snout like nose.
The lunch was unbelievable. He ordered everything on the menu, from lobster to caviar, whilst shamelessly selecting the most expensive wines on the list, which was fine by me; particularly as the agency suits were picking up the tab. Throughout the meal, Jack never stopped talking. The problem was that he never stopped eating either. This meant the food sprayed in all directions, resulting in the account people desperately trying to protect their Brooks Brothers without making their frenzied flapping of napkins too obvious. None of this bothered me, as I was helping Jack consume the Châteaux Laffite at an alarming rate, much to the consternation of the food spattered suits!
It was decided my first effort for Heublein would be to solve the secondary and tertiary brand vodka problem. You should understand that this was not some obscure mathematical theorem from MIT. What it meant was that besides Smirnoff the company also produced six other brands of the same basic, nothing-gets-you-pissed-quicker spirit. It’s a little appreciated fact that by Federal law all vodkas, with the exception of the flavored ones, are exactly the same. They’re all are made with grain neutral spirits diluted with water. The common misperception that this fiery brew is made from potatoes by Russian peasants is a myth the liquor trade has shamelessly nurtured.
So: If you fancy a vodka-based highball, don’t be a schmuck and ask for “Stoli and Grape” or “Sky and Cranberry.” Ask for the well vodka. It’s exactly the same and a damn sight cheaper. However, if you’re trying to impress the blond art director with the big knockers, then go for the Nunsvasser. It might help you achieve your nasty end.
So, now I’m the Heublein creative and have to come up with a campaign for one of their minor brands, Relska Vodka. The problem is, even though the stuff inside the Relska bottle is exactly the same as the stuff inside the Smirnoff bottle and sells for sixty percent less, we can’t say “it gets you just as fucked up, but for a lot less money” because then they’d stop buying the expensive stuff.
So naturally I decided to say absolutely nothing about the product. Instead, I say something about the people who drink the product. This is the fallback position ad hacks have always used when they are totally at a loss. It allows you to show glamorous people posed by your car, eating your bean dip, drinking your booze, etc., without making a sensible statement. The dumbest way to do this is to sign up a celebrity. This often backfires when the star basketball player you have on a multi-million dollar contract gets accused of raping hotel maids. Or, the world’s greatest golfer you signed up three years ago, hasn’t won a single tournament since. Or, even worse has been discovered to have a tendency to fuck anything that moves. Better to stick to far less expensive, anonymous models.
In the case of Relska, I chose some of the most glamorous blonde New York models of the sixties. In a series of ads they were shot sitting at a white table, against a white background, dressed all in white. On the table was a bottle and martini glass. The only color was the red and gold of the Relska label, the green olive in the martini, and the color of the girls’ eyes. In one memorable shot, a Swedish model’s eyes were a startling violet! Her name was Camilla Sparv, and she later went on to star in Robert Redford’s “Downhill Racer.” Unfortunately, her acting skills hardly matched up to her looks, and she soon disappeared.
Jack loved the visual aspect of the ads, but he loved the headline: “I’d really, rather Relska.” He thought it was terribly British (it was the “really” bit that did it). And because the overall monochromatic effect served to make the label punch out of the background, the fucking product was the hero!
As a reward, I was invited to dinner at Jack’s house to meet his English wife. They lived in a posh part of Connecticut in a typical upper-middle-class home. You can imagine my surprise upon entering to find that everything in the house was covered in plastic! And I mean everything. Carpets, chairs, tables, lampshades, probably even the bed sheets and pillows. Jack’s wife seemed very nice, but rather quiet, leaving most of the talking to Jack. You can imagine my dismay to discover when we sat down for dinner that the tablecloth had a plastic sheet over it. Fortunately, the china and silverware were made of actual china and silver.
Pre-dinner cocktails had consisted of Heublein’s premium brands, so I was expecting some rather impressive wines with the dinner. My dismay only increased as I watched Jack unscrew the top from a gallon jug of Gallo’s finest! (This from a guy who would think nothing of ordering a four hundred-dollar claret, obviously on the agencies tab. I wish I could say the quality of Mrs. Martin’s cooking made up for the choice of wine. It didn’t. To complete a memorable evening, it turned out Jack’s wife made more noise and sprayed more food around whilst eating than Jack did! I began to wish that I was covered in plastic as well.
Still, I got to “play” with Camilla Sparv before Robert Redford did.

Purchase ‘Confessions of a Mad Man’ on Amazon.


Boeing Wants To Make Your Flight Better With Cloud And Star Projections

Arts & Culture Today

Small Urban Pavilions Create A Nature Refuge In East London

These relaxing micro shelters provide a haven amidst chaotic city environments

Travel Today

Travel Laundry Pouch Washes Your Clothes Wherever You Are

The Scrubba Wash Bag helps anyone wash their clothes easily and quickly with just a little water and soap


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Social Media Today

Swipe Up To Register To Vote On Snapchat

The social platform has partnered with TurboVote to help young people easily enroll in less than one minute

Children Today

Battle Card Game Promotes Childhood Vaccinations

An Australian doctor has developed a playful way to inform parents about immunization and entertain kids

Related Expert

Megan M. Garwood

Conceptual Art, Cycling, Travel

Fitness / Sport Today

Oakley And Intel’s Sunglasses Give You A Built-In Personal Trainer Wherever You Go

The sunglasses/earbuds hybrid tracks your performance and lets you know how well your workouts are going

Experiential Marketing Today

UNICEF’s ‘Time Machine’ Tells Stories With Data

An experiential installation at the UN General Assembly reminds us why every child matters

Design & Architecture Today

Watch The World’s Tallest Building Become An LED Display

Burj Khalifa gives a backstage look at how the transformation came to be


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed september 23, 2016

Productivity Expert: The Magic Of The Five-Hour Workday

Stephan Aarstol, Founder of Tower Paddle Boards, explains why the modern notion of office hours needs to evolve

PSFK Labs Today

Modern Workplace Culture: No More Fat Cats Or Kissing Ass

Samar Birwadker, CEO & Co-Founder of Good & Co, on designing shared organizational values to optimize employee happiness and success

Latin America Today

Colombians Teach Dance To Fund Students’ Education

Chocó to Dance is a platform that shows you how to replicate popular Latin dances to help create scholarships for local students

Work Today

Editorial Roundtable: What A People-First Workplace Must Prioritize First

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX on why employee fulfillment is a journey and not a destination

Culture Today

Brand Engagement At The Gates Of The World’s Largest Open-Air Gallery

Tiger Beer and a neighborhood-minded nonprofit celebrate and promote New York's creative spirit by beautifying 100 security gates

Automotive Today

Bike-Share Program Helps Students Save Money And Get To Class On Time

Zipcar and Zagster are creating sponsored programs across 500 U.S. college campuses

Technology Today

How Technology Can Save The World By Saving Time

PSFK attends the Social Good Summit 2016 to see how new tech is changing the world for the better


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

Advertising Today

Lancôme’s Newest Campaign Stars A Domestic Abuse Survivor

Rosie Batty is the new face of the Love Your Age series, and is using the platform to bring awareness to a prevalent and deadly problem

Travel Today

Marriott’s Gravity Room Installation Gives Travelers A New Perspective

The luxury hotel chain's #MGravityRoom invites visitors to snap and share pictures of its inverted set up

No search results found.