Don Draper

'Mad Men' and Ad women: A love-hate relationship

March 23, 2012: 10:32 AM ET

Despite its sexualized portrayal of gender roles in the office, many women in advertising are eagerly awaiting the return of the hit television show.

By Vickie Elmer, contributordon_draper

FORTUNE -- When ad firm Leo Burnett throws a "'Mad Men' is back" party on Friday, executive creative officer Jeanie Caggiano will have to decide whether she's dressing up as Joan Harris, the sexy yet powerful executive secretary, or, she says with a wink, "I might try going in drag as Don Draper."

If Karyn Pascoe were going to dress as a character from the AMC (AMCX) television series about a fictional 1960s advertising agency, she says she'd almost certainly be Peggy Olson, played by Elisabeth Moss. Peggy is the lone female copywriter, smart and engaged yet struggling for her standing. "There's so many times when I'm surrounded by all guys -- just because there's so many in the industry," says Pascoe, who's executive creative director at Organic.

Many women in advertising are eagerly awaiting the return of the hit television show, which has been in between seasons for almost 18 months. "Mad Men's" fifth season debuts on Sunday, a return to the plot twists and nuanced characters who have worked on ads for brands like Hilton, Lucky Strike, and London Fog.

The four-time "outstanding drama" Emmy Award-winning show's fans will be watching closely for initial clues as to what happens to characters' careers and love lives. And despite its sexualized portrayal of women in the office, many women in advertising praise the show for its storytelling and say that many of the stories are similar to ones that play out in their workplaces today.

"I feel like it is the only show I've ever seen about advertising that gets it right," says Caggiano. She once inspired herself to make a client pitch by watching the show's protagonist and ad firm creative director Don Draper in action. It was a scene where Draper pitches to Kodak brass on an ad for its carousel projector. "I was so channeling that in my pitch. We won. Life imitating art yet again," she says.

MORE: The secret of success: Needing less sleep?

To be sure, not every woman appreciates the show. It "brings back too many bad memories … of a time when women were second-class citizens, belittled on a daily basis," writes Laura K. Chapin in a US News opinion piece. Chapin, a Democratic communications strategist, doesn't like the sexism and won't be tuning in. More

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