Make no mistake. Brian May has no time for the high drama, sexcapades and office hijinks that make “Mad Men” such a juicy and addictive series. But he is fascinated by the show’s depiction of the creative side of an era that ended just as he was born. And he is also quite taken with the style—the classic fashions, the mid-century furniture, the attitude—that have launched a retro cottage industry. May is, after all, what you might call a 21st century “Mad Man.” His firm, Maycreate, is a top design and branding agency, and as prinicipal and creative director, May is chief evangelist of the impact of image. “Whether you like it or not, you are branding yourself from the time you wake up in the morning,” he says.
In the digital era, May and his company are Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce on steroids, designing and branding—selling an image—for local, regional and national clients such as CapitalMark Bank, the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau and Honda Powersports. “The same (advertising) principles apply,” May says over a cool cocktail at the stylish Easy Bistro on Broad Street. “It’s all about creating a conversation.”
May certainly achieved that goal with his firm’s latest project—the redesign of the City of Chattanooga’s website. While he declines to discuss the details of an ongoing project, the bidding process prompted a flurry of “conversations,” mostly in opposition to the cost. But that’s another story.
With the debut of the much-anticipated fifth season of “Mad Men” just behind us, we asked May about the show, his own experience as an ad man and the difficulties—and pleasures—of running an agency in a small market in 2012.
THE PULSE: While you obviously can’t speak to the era of advertising portrayed in “Mad Men”—and this is Chattanooga, after all—how do you feel about the show and what it says about advertising in general?
BRIAN MAY: There are things that I love about the show—when the writers take the characters deeper into the creative process, the research, the accidents and how much effort goes into “doing what we do.” The parts I can live without are, quite frankly, the things that drive the ratings in all likelihood. I’m speaking of all the soap-opera drama and sub-plots, but, hey, not everyone lives and breathes advertising and branding.
Most interviews with ad men of the “Mad Men” era who occupied similar roles as Don Draper mostly say they were not like him. What character do you most identify with?
Actually, I’d say Don Draper. In the sense that I’m loyal to my team, enjoy the creative process more than any other part of the business, and only want to work with clients that respect us and desire a creative partnership. I’ve been known to ask a client to work with another firm when the fit’s not right. We all know Don Draper would do that.
One of the fascinating aspects of the show is that is shows how products we are familiar with were advertised and marketed in the past. Fictional or not, the characters don’t actually seem to have much respect for their clients or their products. What product or service are you most happy with being associated with and, conversely, which one are you sorry you helped? Not a campaign but a product or service.
It’s a simple belief that if you take the clients that you want to work with you’ll always have fun and do your best work. One of our favorite clients locally is CapitalMark Bank and Trust. They have a great banking model and their customer service is off the charts (as evidenced by their success). CMBT has been a client of Maycreate’s from the very beginning days of the bank. We have a great relationship that fosters a healthy amount of dialog, which in turn produces great creative.