‘Mad Men’ Ad Campaign Is Causing Controversy In NYC


A couple of weeks back I reported on the Mad Men ad campaign that is aimed at promoting season 5, beginning March 25. First we heard about the sneak peak video promo and then we got the cryptic poster leaving more questions unanswered than answered. Today, I have learned that the Mad Men publicity campaign has been causing a bit of controversy in NYC because the image of a silhouetted, suited man tumbling through the air, which they have taken from the opening credits of Mad Men, evokes a memory of 9/11 and many New Yorkers are upset and offended by the image.

All of the Mad Men publicity has been deliberately elusive and provocative, much like the show. The stark silhouette posters (which have only the image of the falling man and an air date) are also able to be interpreted in a few different ways. If you know the show, you would recognize the image of falling men from skyscrapers as it is a prominent image from the opening credits of the show. I can appreciate that those who aren’t familiar with the show however may not. The NY Times is reporting though that the campaign is offending many New Yorkers who are seeing the images on the top of cabs and all around the city and for them it brings up images of 9/11. The NY Times and NY Magazine have reported that they have had people write in to them about how they are finding the campaign highly offensive.

“It definitely evokes the memory of 9/11,” a relative of one of the September 11 victims told the Times, “and doesn’t seem to have any connection with the message it is promoting.” AMC insists, “The image used in the campaign is intended to serve as a metaphor for what is happening in Don Draper’s fictional life and in no way references actual events,” but is it hard to believe that no one at the network saw the parallel?

This is a hard one to know what to think. As someone very familiar with the show I instantly recognized the falling man from skyscraper image as a connection to Mad Men’s opening sequence. Thinking about it a bit further though, I can see that for those not familiar with the show, the stark and unexplained image could be seen another way. The Mad Men publicity probably should have foreseen this happening given that the campaign is being shown around New York City and this kind of sensitivity has come up before. Remember the controversy caused by the trailer for Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close? Many New Yorkers were offended by this campaign because the ads for the film showed footage of the burning towers at subway stops surrounding Ground Zero and other areas in Manhattan. While this campaign is less obvious a connection to September 11 I can still actually see the resemblance quite significantly.

What do you think, should the Mad Men producers have foreseen this reaction?


  • No, this image is not offensive. But in the context of its placement on high-rise buildings in NYC, yes, I can see how it might offend some people in NYC who are reminded by the events of 9/11. But this billboard anywhere else in the world is unlikely to be linked to 9/11.

  • brittany

    I’m sorry, I think people who take this as a connection to 9/11 and get offended obviously have too much time on their hands.

    While 9/11 is clearly a significant event I find it pointless to assume everything that could possibly be connected is.

  • Missy

    That “guy” has been falling from a NY skyscraper since the start of the show. Why get offended now, just cause it’s on a NY building?

    • @Missy — “Why get offended now, just cause it’s on a NY building?” Yes, that’s the point of this article. As I said, in any other context, this image would not at all be controversial.

  • I’m not a native New Yorker but I have lived in the city for some time now and I’ve never watched Mad Men but I do remember first seeing these particular ads in the subway stations, etc. They did catch my attention because it was just this white poster with a silhouetted man falling and I immediately thought “That must be for the return of Mad Men.” Obviously, I’m a pop culture man and knew that the show would soon be returning and figured this was their “clever” way of getting people’s attention.

    I never connected it to 9/11 and I’m not trying to take away from the experience but if reading just now that this imagery has been a part of the show from the very beginning, I’m confused as to why it is now so controversial. :/

  • Carrie

    I like the posters but…

    I forget the name of the documentary – the one with the two brothers filming a NYC firefighter brigade the day 9/11 happened. If you watched that, maybe you’d see how the madmen poster easily offends NYC’ers.

    They are filming on the plaza level of one of the towers and you keep hearing this loud bang. It’s explained by one of the narrators that noise you hear hear every few minutes was a jumper.

    People were jumping one after the other from the towers so they would not burn to death a hundred stories up. It’s a terrible memory that has stuck with me since I saw the doc in 2002.

    Perhaps the posters are another reminder to those who witness that part of the tragedy as it happened.

  • Lauren

    people were falling before 9/11 ever happened. i think it’s a little self-involved to hold on to it over 10 years later.

    • Elliot

      “Self-involved” ???What???

  • Krissy

    I’m from WI, and the second I saw the ads on the buildings in NYC, my heart stopped & I immediately was taken back to the ghastly footage of the people jumping from the burning towers. I have never seen Mad Men though, so that may have something to do with it… but you don’t have to be a New Yorker to be immediately reminded of one of the most tragic events in our nation’s history. I’m offended by the righteous attitudes of people like Lauren.

  • Viola

    @Lauren, please rethink what you’ve written. How horribly ignorant.

  • Mairi

    It’s because it’s reminiscent of a famous photograph of the ‘Falling Man’, who was never identified (there was a documentary about him). Search ‘9/11 Falling Man’ on Google Images and you’ll see why some people have an issue with it.

  • Carrie

    I had never seen nor heard of the falling man photo. The controversy makes even more sense now. Thanks Mairi.

  • Lorena

    No matter what happens…no matter what context…people will always be offended by one thing or another. It’s just the nature of society…

    • @Lorena — You are exactly right.

  • Claire

    I think we have to look at it in the context that someone, somewhere is always going to be offended by something. The image of an ocean could bring back horrible memories for a person who lost someone to drowning. Do we avoid using guns in TV and advertisements? Absolutely not. Even though millions of people have been the victims of a shooting. There have been tragedies involving so much various imagery that it’s impossible to avoid negative connotations. I feel like 911 has just gotten so much more attention, having been one of the most witnessed mass tragedies in history.

  • Jenne

    i was very directly affected by the events of 9-11-01. However, this poster does not offend me, upset me or makes me feel sad. every day is still a struggle, but a poster is not going to remind me of the people that died that day. there are many other things that really hurt. i’m sure, as I have come across them, that there are people who get upset at anything even slightly reminiscent of that day, but like a few people responded above me, there are people who are going to find the offensive in EVERYTHING. me? i like to find the positive and good in everything, even after horrible things occur.

    • @Jenne — XOXOXO thanks for sharing your comment