Principals With Principles

Hall of Fame Copywriter, Ed McCabe, is kindly answering questions about the ad industry, sent to The Times by fans of AMC’s hit show, Mad Men.

Question: What product or service are you most happy with being able to help and, conversely, which one are you sorry you helped? I do not mean which campaign are you happy about, but the product or service itself.
 — Posted by Tim W.
Answer: A very good question(s). I was particularly fortunate to have worked for highly principled entrepreneurs and then run my own companies with standards of integrity that seem unlikely and uncommon today.
We were very picky about which clients we’d take. We wanted good companies with good products and for them we’d do our best work. We often fired clients if they bullied our people or got in the way of our doing the best work we could. So I can honestly say I’m not ashamed of any work I ever did in advertising. Back then, as I said, the agency business was run by personalities and individuals who enforced ethical standards today’s holding companies are a little less personally passionate about. For example, I turned away many tobacco companies who wanted us to do their advertising. Didn’t make a lot of friends in that industry but slept well at night.

Sounds like real Mad Men–at least the ones McCabe knew and worked with–had quite a bit more integrity than their fictional counterparts.
[via The Escape Pod]

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. I worked as a copywriter for Ed McCabe back in the good ol’ days and I don’t think he’s — forgive the expression — blowing smoke. But even today, I find that most of the people I interact with, both on the agency side and the client side, hold themselves to a pretty high ethical standard. (And I can tell you from firsthand experience that some of Scali, McCabe, Sloves’s clients did occasionally behave less than resolutely).
    There’s a huge difference between the behaviors of people and the behaviors of companies.
    People have souls. Companies have boards of directors, shareholders, and committees for everything. If things are different today, it’s because fewer companies are actually run by a single individual who is ultimately and completely responsible for the behavior of the company.
    Bad people make good fiction. Committees account for some of the most heinous behavior imaginable, but they’re boring to watch.
    –Brian Belefant
    (aka The 60 Second Director)