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Mad Men, Season 4: The Subaru Parallel

Filed under: The Squib Report   Tagged: , , , ,

Martin Schneider writes:

One more quick thing about the most recent episode, "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword." The news that SCDP would be handling Honda's nascent automobile division could not but remind me of Randall Rothenberg's engrossing book Where the Suckers Moon. That 1994 book detailed the circa-1990 process whereby Subaru hired a new advertising agency for its upcoming campaign and, as such, is an essential resource—one I haven't seen mentioned enough—for anyone who wants to read more about Don Draper's job description (albeit 25 years later).

Mad Men's description of Honda's new cars as "motorcycles with a frame around them" (or whatever) immediately brought me back to Rothenberg's account of Subaru's early years. At the time—an automobile enthusiast could confirm if this is still true—Subaru was kind of the ignoble stalwart on the lower end of the Japanese automobile market. Their cars were clunky, cheap, and reliable, and they were also known for pioneering the four-wheel drive. Somehow I can't help but think that Weiner and Co. are obliquely referring to Where the Suckers Moon here; it's just too close.


Thanks, Martin, for this very kind reminiscence. I wondered that, too, as I was watching the show, then remonstrated myself for self-centeredness. But your article prompted me to go back to “Suckers” to check - and the answer to your query seems to be “could be.”

The “Mad Men” episode is set in 1965. The Subaru 360, the first Subaru auto imported into the U.S., came to the U.S. in 1968. Subaru of America was able to evade Federal auto safety standards because, as I describe it in the book, it was “in the eyes U.S. Government, a covered motorcycle” because of its light weight (965 pounds).

I don’t remember much about Honda’s history. But according to Edmunds.com, the first Honda auto exported to the U.S., the N600, didn’t come over until 1970.

Thanks again for the trip down advertising’s memory lane!

What a delight, that you found your way to this post, Randall—obviously, I think you are not imagining things. It’s a tribute to your authorial skills that I still remember that detail about Subaru so many years later (I read WTSM in 1998, I think).

Your impressions of what Mad Men does and doesn’t get right about the advertising industry would be most interesting to hear! Have you weighed in anywhere?

Ron Berger, my former partner, owned that Subaru. It had three cylinders, but it only cost about 1300 dollars when Ron went off to college (luckily close, either Harvard or Hartford, I forget which) in 1966.

Tom MessnerAugust 26, 2010

Somewhere, a Harvard man felt an inexplicable chill pass through his body…..

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree