The Mad Men (2007-2015) writers aren’t the only storytellers on staff. The set designers and decorators use subtle clues to propel the narrative forward throughout the series from 1960 where to the show beings to where it ends in 1970. We see, but no one talks about, Don looking at magazine covers and secretaries (and Joan) drinking a “new” type of beverage called Tab. Gothamist put together a list of the different set, design, and production clues from the final season highlighting the transition.
Throughout the run of the show, the production team has dealt with the sometimes stark changes in fashion, technology, and, of course, consumer products, in much subtler and more realistic ways than other shows. Shows like Happy Days, M.A.S.H or, more recently, That 70s Show or The Goldbergs, play to the broader more stereotypical view of their periods. This is partly because of the difference between a half-hour comedy and an hour-long drama. But dramas like Homefront or American Dreams also were not as subtle and sophisticated as Mad Men.
The conceit of the show is a built-in catalyst. Having a show based in the world of advertising allows the team to use the consumer products as decorative story-telling devices. In the most recent episodes, we see a focus on female products, like L’eggs, Tampax, and Avon, which reflects the social changes (think: women becoming the primary consumer) happening in the late 60s and early 70s. We also see the importance of television advertising beginning to eclipse the print ads. These changes do not necessarily appear explicitly in the dialogue, but in the background in places like the sketches left behind in Peggy’s old office at SC&P, or the can of Tab on Joan’s desk at McCann Erickson. The careful placement of these hints and clues ground the viewer and the story in both time and place.