In her opening remarks, 82 year-old Jane Maas said, “When I started my advertising career in 1964, as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather, I worked only on the kind of accounts that were considered appropriate for women. They were household products like Drano drainpipe cleaner, food and beverages like Good Seasons salad dressing and Maxwell House coffee, and health and beauty aids like Dove soap. Oh, yes, and Vanish toilet bowl cleaner. Certain categories, such as financial brands, automotive, and liquor, were strictly male territory. No women allowed.”
Maas’ Madison Avenue legacy remains as blue chip as that of most of her clients. She began at O&M as a copywriter—a very big deal in the 1960s when most every woman who entered an advertising agency entered as a typist or secretary—moved on to Wells Rich Greene, and then became chairman of Earle Palmer Brown. Today she remains a consultant to some of the most well-known brands in the U.S.
Yesterday a couple of dozen of us gathered at the T. Rowe Price Owings Mills campus for her Association of National Advertisers presentation, Elevating Your Creative.
I arrived early. I had a question for our presenter.
I knew of Maas and I’d seen her photo in trade magazines and online for years—I’d noticed that she always wore a large gold pin shaped like a unicorn. I asked her about it before the session began.
She gently covered it with the palm of her hand (like she was going to say the Pledge of Allegiance) and grinned like a school girl. “It’s very special,” she said. “My beau gave it to me over ten years ago. I wear it every day.”
The afternoon went way too fast—I could listen to her stories for hours:
Late one night, one of our account men was having sex with his secretary. He was fairly junior, so his inside office didn’t have a door, and the big boss happened to be working late and caught them. The result was that the account guy was promoted and got an office with a door; the secretary was fired.
Maas has published several books about advertising over the years—in her recent memoir, Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ’60s and Beyond, she shares what it was really like in that that golden era of advertising:
Agencies were run by men, and men didn’t think we knew how to balance our checkbooks, so how could we be trusted to write advertising for a bank or a credit card? I was the first woman assigned to the American Express Card account. The account and creative men at my agency warned me I might be met with a bit of client hostility. The men there were afraid that, if they turned down my creative ideas, I would cry.
But when I arrived at the first meeting, the big boss was extremely nice to me, pulled out a chair and invited me to sit down. I thought things were going better than expected.
Then he asked: “Did you forget your steno pad, dear?”
Update: November 27, 2018
Jane Maas has died. The Washington Post reported that,
No finance, no cars, no liquor. Those were among the advertising accounts off-limits to female copywriters when Jane Maas was navigating the boozy, smoke-filled offices of New York’s Madison Avenue in the 1960s.
Male bosses “figured we didn’t know how to balance our checkbooks,” she recalled years later. “They figured we didn’t know how to drive a car.” And alcohol, she added, was “what they used to seduce us, so that was clearly out.” Products more suitable for women, according to the prevailing view of the day, including dish soap and toilet cleaner.
Mrs. Maas, perhaps best known for midwifing the “I Love New York” campaign in the 1970s, died Nov. 16 at 86.