As the critically acclaimed TV series approaches a climax–the penultimate season comes to a close on Sunday–the fictional 1960s agency at the heart of the show has purchased its very own IBM 360, a state-of-the-art mainframe computer that takes up an entire room. This massive machine replaces the common room in the middle of the agency’s office–the place where the young creatives come to brainstorm ideas–and one ad man, the offbeat and thoughtful Ginsberg, is particularly disturbed by this. He’s worried the machine will eventually replace them all. Feeling he has no choice but to embrace the power of the machine, he chops off his own nipple so that the IBM can plug straight into his body.
Yes, Ginsberg overreacted. But not as much as you might think. Fifty years after the arrival of mainframes like the IBM 360, our modern machines are indeed reducing the relevance of the classic ad man. No, computers aren’t doing the jobs of creative types like Ginsberg. They aren’t writing ad copy or dreaming up magazine spreads. But, thanks to the internet, they’re completely changing the way the ad business works, and that means a whole new type of human talent is needed. IBM never undermined the Mad Men of the world.