Real Mad Man Looks Back

Designer William Drenttel, a founding editor at Design Observer, discusses his pre-design background as a “Mad Man.”

When I started at Compton, account executives on Procter & Gamble generally had MBAs from Penn, Columbia or Dartmouth. We were white and generally male. We bought our (white) shirts at one of three places: Brooks Brothers, J.Press (“of New Haven”), or Paul Stuart. There were no other acceptable choices.
In 1979, with about 18-months experience, I went to Italy to launch Pampers. Since Italy was considered the third world in those days, I went overnight from being an assistant account executive to being a managing director. I rented a penthouse in the Teatro di Marcello, and spent three lovely years living in Rome.
It took me a decade on Madison Avenue to realize that I didn’t want to be a Mad Man, despite the thrill of the kill, the pitches, the travel. I actually came to hate advertising. I think branding is generally a plague on the earth. I’m so glad to be a designer, hardly sin-free, but closer to making things where I can say they are what they are, and not something delivered to me in a black bag in some airport. My Mad Man story is really about a person being saved by design.

A plague on the earth. Nice.
[via Kottke]

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. This guy is a douche.
    Here’s why: the design world is full of douches who think that they’re above the concept of selling products. They like the coin that the business world gives them to sling their brand, but they don’t want to be seen as a cog in the capitalist wheel. You want to be an artist, be an artist. But if you make your living in the world of commercial art, realize that a business hires you to sell their business. Pretending that everything involved with that fact is beneath you is pathetic, and ultimately you screw your clients because you don’t deliver your best. Designers are in the business world like the rest of us. The exceptional ones are the ones who have no problem with this fact. Hey, paint in your free time.
    This is coming from a writer who is too chicken-shit to live the life of a starving artist. That’s why I turned to advertising.

  2. I don’t want to be seen as a cog in the capitalist wheel.

  3. this is a real mad man.
    Ed McCabe: The Wizard of Words, with Shahnaz Mahmud