For those of you who are not Mad Men fanatics, this will take a bit of ‘splainin’. Pete Campbell is an Account Executive/Partner at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price – a fictional 1960’s ad agency. If you’ve watched all of the seasons of Mad Men, Pete’s slimy ways have probably made you feel uncomfortable or dirty at least once – possibly twice – an episode for the past four seasons.
Here’s the thing about Pete: Pete knows what he wants and he goes after it. He doesn’t always take a path that you or I would prefer – he sometimes turns to manipulation or blackmail – but everything he does is because he wants to be The Ad Man. The other thing to know about Pete is that he is an account executive (basically a client schmoozer) who fancies himself as a creative. He is NOT a creative.
That all being said, here are my thoughts on Pete:
On Trying Too Hard: Pete wants to be an Ad Man. Desperately. He “acquires” all of the things that he thinks he needs to portray the image (wife, apartment downtown, etc), he reads all of the “right” books, he does all of the networking. But at the end of the day, he often just comes across as trying too hard. It’s awkward to watch and difficult to like. It conjures up at least a half dozen memories of stupid things I’ve done or witnessed other people doing. I think about my first presentations when I worked in advertising or remember terrible sales pitches someone delivered to me. I shudder at the memories. And I watch Pete and think, “Am I trying too hard? Am I making myself into a person I wish I could be or am I becoming a person that I am meant to be?”
On Taking Shortcuts: Pete regularly tries to find shortcuts, but his shortcuts always come at a much-too-high cost. Sometimes it’s his own integrity that takes a hit, and sometimes he even jeopardizes family relationships for the sake of authenticating his place in the ad world. I’m all for taking risks, but the things he’s willing to risk sometimes seem too great considering what he is hoping to accomplish. How often do I sacrifice a long-term item for a short-term goal? What are my trade-offs?
On Being Authentic: Pete says a lot of crap to get what he wants and hides a lot of things he does. There are a lot of things Pete sweeps under the rug, including affairs and a baby with another woman. Watching his character operate, the amount of baggage he’s carrying around is almost palpable. It’s like he’s teetering, on the verge of falling over under the baggage’s oppressive weight. And yet, if you asked him, he’d probably ask, “Baggage? What baggage?”