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Will a 3-Martini Lunch Make You More Creative at Work?

The new season of AMC's Mad Men is reigniting interest in the three-martini lunch, the mythical device that allegedly fuelled the "creative revolution" in the advertising business during the 1960s. The first two episodes of the show's latest season both hinted at the arrival of the creative revolution at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce: Last night, creative director Peggy Olson dressed down account services man Freddy Rumson for being too "old-fashioned" in his ideas for Pond's Cold Cream. And, of course, they all drink like fish on the show. This season, partner Don Draper is barely able to get his keys in the door when he arrives home after work.

Today, Madison Avenue is a teetotal place. The last several times I've had lunch or dinner with ad execs all bar one sipped soda throughout, and the lone drinker did so because he was an independent consultant. Nonetheless, soda -- let's face it -- is a drink for children, so it's not surprising there's a nostalgia for the days when adults did adult things in adult company. Curiously, this nostalgia is being cloaked in the virtue of research: If we drank martinis in business lunches, people are asking, might it make us better at our jobs or happier people?

Jerry Della Femina has made a second career out of explaining to people that the ad biz was a lot more fun back when it was acceptable to imbibe at midday:

I went to lunch with four top executives from my agency. As we walked into The Italian Pavilion, a media hangout of the time, the bartender had our martinis ready at the table. After we finished looking at the menu another round was served. Before our lunch arrived a third round was downed. Then two bottles of wine with lunch and for dessert, someone (not me) would say, "I think I will have a Scotch for dessert." Then we would go back to work and produce an amazing amount of work. Was everyone drunk? The 1970s were the golden age of advertising. Some of the most creative campaigns -- Volkswagen, Avis, Volvo, Chivas Regal -- were produced in an alcohol and cigarette haze.
And Ad Age published a wonderfully amusing article in which three agency executives attempted to prove Della Femina's hypothesis by putting themselves through a three-martini lunch in an attempt to see if they did actually generate better ideas while doing so. The result: They felt more creative but less organized by the time they got back to the office. They're not alone. David Ogilvy, the founder of WPP (WPPGY) unit Ogilvy & Mather, endorsed booze as fuel:
Many people â€" and I think I am one of them â€" are more productive when they've had a little to drink. I find if I drink two or three brandies, I'm far better able to write.
Generally, creative people believe alcohol helps them be creative. But killjoy scientists say this is a "dangerous myth"; the business version of "I drive better when I'm drunk."

My two cents: Most people can barely function after three martinis in a sitting. (Remember that Mad Men's Rumson, last seen urinating on himself in the old Sterling Cooper office, has returned as an AA man bearing a $2 million account.) But surely a one-martini lunch isn't beyond the pale?

Image by Flickr user Kyle May, CC.

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