Major magazines tend to look back fondly on the 1960s, when the media landscape was dotted by a handful of towering names, but Newsweek has taken nostalgia to another level. Its new issue is dedicated to Mad Men, the retro TV phenomenon whose highly anticipated fifth season premieres Sunday. The cover — featuring Don Draper & Co., and declaring "Welcome Back to 1965" — is even done up with a retro Newsweek logo and font. And in a dream assignment for advertising agencies, all of the issue's ads are designed in a clever '60s style of which Draper himself would approve. (Though there are a few modern-day touches, including the appended suggestion for Johnnie Walker: "Please drink responsibly.") Is it unseemly for a newsmagazine to so wholly embrace a TV show?
Yes. This issue is one giant advertisement: No doubt, it's "an attention-grabbing cover," says Alexander Abad-Santos at The Atlantic. But Newsweek largely seems to be "shilling" for Mad Men, "essentially turning the entire magazine into a big ad for the show." Of course, magazines constantly use television shows and stars to sell copies, but when a magazine "dresses itself up" in a show's "look and feel," it undermines the publication's purpose. Newsweek is being too "meta for its own good."
"Newsweek's retro Mad Men issue feels a little old"
No. It's an insightful commentary on Mad Men and advertising: The advertising gurus in Mad Men are immersed in the "creation and manipulation of a reality," which is how they're able to "sell a dream" to consumers, says Jordan Zakarin at The Hollywood Reporter. The dream is made real by a "very specific consumer product," whether it's Johnnie Walker or Lucky Strike cigarettes. In that sense, Newsweek is celebrating the show's return by offering itself as a product that will transport you back to the 1960s, a kind of "real-life actualization of the show's fictional world." And it's all in the "grand tradition of the show's marketing focus."
"Newsweek's Mad Men cover highlights vintage 1960s issue"
And the ads are undeniably great: By asking advertising agencies "to go retro with their creative," the editors at Newsweek came up "with something clever," says Kurt Soller at Esquire. You've got to "appreciate the efforts from Bloomingdale's, Johnston & Murphy, and United Colors of Benetton, the last of which somehow turned their brand identity into some sort of statement about The Space Race. Nice." But the best is the ad for Geico, "whose gecko spokeslizard has become tiresome by 2012, but feels right at home in 1965."
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Full disclosure: Sir Harold Evans, editor-at-large of The Week, is married to Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of Newsweek and The Daily Beast.