M ad Men is back on television, reminding us how far the science of selling has fallen since the Age of the Three-Martini Lunch.
Don Draper, the sexiest advertising man not really alive, and his partners at the fictional 1960s Madison Avenue agency Sterling Cooper Draper, might seduce their secretaries and play their wives for fools, but at least they aren’t insulting the intelligence of the consuming public.
The phony pleasantries passed off as public relations by present-day practitioners of the craft so stylishly executed on Mad Men assault us in every venue. There is no respite.
At Publix, where shopping is less of a pleasure than it used to be, the simple, sincere friendliness that founder George Jenkins cultivated in his cashiers and stock boys has overripened into an exhausting Kabuki theater of fake friendliness.
Customers are assumed to be in need of a verbal hug from every employee within three aisles of where they are pondering a purchase. If “Are you finding everything OK?” were a drinking game, Publix could sell liver transplants in the pharmacy.
At the bank — any bank — a greeter is stationed at the front door where the uniformed guard used to be on duty discouraging Willie Sutton wannabes. These days, it’s the banks robbing customers, and the greeter’s job is to direct you to the “financial service” that will best enable you to buy things you don’t need with money you don’t have.
You just want a check cashed? The line forms at the right, and plan to bring something to read while you’re standing in it. Otherwise, you’ll be watching a half dozen “bankers” sitting idle in their offices waiting for someone to financially service.
But you can de-stress at the gym, right?
That front desk where genuinely friendly staffers could distinguish between day trippers and people who pay a year in advance and come every day has been converted into a border crossing, complete with an electronic badge that must be scanned.
But if checking in at the gym now has all the charm of checking in at the airport, they’ve got your back — literally — as you leave. You may be six feet past the front desk on your way out, with the electronic doors opening under your feet, when six people behind the desk notice you are leaving, at which time they begin shouting “Goodnight!” and, “Did you enjoy your workout?”
You might not hear them if you’re on an endorphin high or planning dinner or pondering the meaning of life, so they shout a little louder.
“Customer service” has been dumbed down to the point where jobs depend upon one’s ability to make customers acknowledge pleasantries that would be superfluous even if delivered to one’s face, as opposed to one’s fanny.
Mad Men’s fifth season opened on a recent Sunday to 3.5 million viewers, some of them wondering how Don Draper would have fared in a world where success is measured in recommendations on LinkedIn, followers on Twitter and friends — some real, some fake — on Facebook.
Florence Snyder is a Tallahassee-based corporate lawyer who has spent most of her career in and around newspapers.