Left to right: Vince Cullers Advertising self-promo ad, the Afro Sheen 'Wantu Wazuri' campaign and a promo-poster for Putney Swope
Season five of AMC's Mad Men is soon here and fans are eagerly awaiting it, while others are still asking the question: Where are all the black mad men? The Root shines a spotlight on a few of the African American pioneers in advertising, pointing out Vincent Cullers, Georg Olden and Tom Burrell, and say:
Given such history, including black ad men on Mad Men should be a no-brainer. The series begins its fourth season well after the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Freedom Summer, the epochal and dangerous campaign to register blacks in the Deep South to vote; the murders of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, three civil rights workers who died in that voter-registration effort; and numerous American race riots, one of which took place in New York City, where Mad Men is set.
Also quoted in the article is the book: Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry where we learn that even the Clio awards statuette was designed by an African American.
Chambers examines the rise of what he calls the "Brown Hucksters," the group of African-American marketing and advertising specialists in the 1950s who helped deep-pocketed advertisers realize that black consumers spent money, too.
In his book, Chambers recounts the career of Georg Olden, an African-American trailblazer in advertising. After the United States entered World War II, Olden, the Alabama-born son of a Baptist preacher, left college and got a job as an artist for the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. He later went to work at CBS and left there in 1960, at the age of 40, to pursue a new career in advertising. He signed on as the television art group director with BBDO.
In 1963, much in demand, Olden accepted an offer to move to the influential agency McCann Erickson to become vice president and senior art director. That same year, he became the first African-American designer of a postage stamp, a stylized depiction of a broken chain that marked the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Olden went on to win seven Clios (the advertising industry's equivalent of the Oscars) for his work throughout the 1960s. (Icing on the cake: Olden himself designed the actual Clio statuette, inspired by a Brancusi sculpture.)
Vincent T Cullers founded Vince Cullers Advertising Inc. with his wife, Marian Cullers, and created many successful campaigns targeted at the African American market. I would love to see Don Draper & Co lose a pitch to an agency like that, having so clearly failed to be inclusive with their ads, their staff and their choice of clients. It's not like they haven't seen the writing on the wall, even Pete Cambell found that "these Admirals are being bought by negroes" a few seasons back. That line, like many other details in the show, is so jarring today.
Last year the Marcus Graham Project did a photo shoot called The New Mad Men.", as even if one can argue that in those days there was a lack of African Americans working in advertising, one should not forget that there were "those that paved the way then and are still paving the way now" in the biz even then. "A critical review of the help" dug up ads from the era found in Ebony magazine that show the African American market was as diverse as any other.