The year is 1965, and a hot-to-trot new ad agency is making a pitch for an upstart Japanese motorcycle manufacturer's $3 million account. The agency: the fictional Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The client: The very nonfictional Honda.
Of course there was no such pitch. The agency is the centerpiece of the AMC network's "Mad Men," the show that features skinny ties and tight suits for the men, short skirts and superstructure brassieres for the women, and whiskey on the office sideboards consumed like so much iced tea.
The racism and sexism that simmered throughout the early '60s bubble to the surface during the Honda review. Neither Honda nor the agency comes out shining in the "Mad Men" episode broadcast Aug. 22.
Agency executives cram by reading The Chrysanthemum and the Sword and dining at Benihana. The Honda executives openly leer at Joan, the busty (a word used frequently in 1965, apparently) office manager, and make jokes about her stature.
Roger Sterling -- the agency's silver fox, who fought in the Pacific during World War II -- is troubled that he must bow to countrymen of those who killed his buddies on some blazing sand pit 20 years earlier. Sterling sabotages the review, confronting the Honda executives with thinly veiled references to Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. He nearly comes to blows with an agency Young Turk who tells him to forget the past.
This was no product placement. "Mad Men" writers never contacted Honda about the script, American Honda Executive Vice President John Mendel said. He didn't know Honda would be a crucial plot element before the episode was broadcast.
About the only plot misstep was that Honda supposedly was shopping the account in early 1965. That's just two years after Grey Advertising scored big points with the very successful "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" campaign.