The showy print can be prominently spotted in the episode
Christmas Comes But Once a Year(S04E02) while Peggy tells Fred Rumsen that the times in the advertising world have changed, that Freddy is
old-fashionedand that SCDP is now a modern agency.
DVD Screencap, ©2010 AMC
This is interesting for several reason when knowing the historic story of this poster and the typeface it promotes – and here is why:
The print prop in Mad Men is a slightly customized copy from the original advertising brochure cover poster for introducing the new font Helvetica, which was created in Switzerland in 1956.
The very similar above poster is also inspired by the original Swiss brochure cover and the Mad Men prop, but actually from the filmmaker Gary Huswit who created a documentary about the legendary typeface.
However, back to the Helvetica font, which was designed by the two graphic and typographic artists Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas type foundry (Haas’sche Schriftgießerei) for the Stempel AG.
Actually, as few Mad Men watcher probably don’t know, this typeface is one of the most used fonts worldwide.
In fact, many big companies are using Helvetica for their brand identity: American Apparel, for instance, or AGFA, American Airlines, BASF, Target and Twitter.
And even the typography of the NYC Subway systems is created with the Helvetica font.
The font is used in print and is also one of the standard typefaces on every Apple computer and some other computer systems.
The design became in fact so popular in the 60s and thereafter because Helvetica was originally created as a simplified modern typeface that contrasts the more antique or ‘old-fashioned’ looking serif-fonts like Georgia, Baskerville or Garamond, which were very common at that time – and still are.
As it comes now clear, Helvetica, as a lightweight and clear font, revolutionized the whole advertising industry and actually the way people perceive brands.
The font marks in fact the visual transition to the modern media world, where simplified and clear designs – like in the Bauhaus era or Le Corbusier style – became modern and more popular.
With this historic reference in mind, lets take a closer look on the poster itself that hangs at the wall in Peggy‘s room.
DVD Screencap, ©2010 AMC
The print in the SCDP office and Peggy’s creative department is slightly different from the original brochure cover and Gary Huswit’s version, because the header on the TV series prop has a single line and not a block quote like in this particular reproduction or the original Helvetica brochure.
However, and while is not clear what the headline of the Mad Men prop poster really says, the original block headline in German is: “D. Stempel AG. Frankfurt am Main. Schriftgießerei” because the poster had been initially created for a campaign for the new typeface of the German type foundry D. Stempel AG in 1960s.
Nevertheless, the poster in Pegg’s creative department is still another authentic reference to an historic moment that changed graphic design, brand communication and advertising forever.
It fits therefore to Peggy’s new job as the first female copywriter in the agency and to her creative tools – typewriter, pens, words and letters – to shape modern society.
In particular, the dialogue between the young Peggy and veteran Fred shows furthermore the clash of two generations and how the young creatives see the advertising jobs differently.
The new creatives do their job literally in a modern way and the Helvetica poster in the background is in fact a strong symbol of the emerging of a new generation of creatives, visual identities and a modern society.
Of course, it’s not documented, if the Mad Men producers really have chosen this poster in these scenes with this particular meaning in mind, but it looks like a nice pop-cultural trivia and reasonable theory.
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