Tonight was the first episode of the fourth season of Mad Men. It was a bittersweet moment, in which we once again can revel in the mid-century modern adventures of the anti-hero Don Draper, but also mourn the approaching summer’s end.
One of the many enjoyable parts of the Mad Men viewing experience (besides laughing at the characters’ ignorance of upcoming historical events. Fools! Johnson was planning on sending more troops to Vietnam the whole time! And you will have Nixon to kick around anymore!) is watching in awe how the show flawlessly recreates the ’60s style down to pinpoint accuracy. Sure there are a few mistakes, but overall it is very impressive and does a better job at truly immersing the audience than almost any other show.
This is why typeface purists were shocked, shocked, to see the logo for the new Sterling Cooper Draper Price.
Instantly, Twitter was a twitter with shock and disgust.
Can it be…
For those who do not know, Arial is one the typefaces, behind comic sans and papyrus, most likely to get you in trouble with a font nerd. What makes it so repugnant is its obvious ripoff from, yet inferiority to, Helvetica (a typeface so wonderful it merits its own documentary). What is worse is that Arial was created by Microsoft as a stand-in for Helvetica simply so it would not have to pay for the superior original. Therefore, the ubiquity of the Microsoft software has ensured that Arial is used more often as a generic sans-serif than that pinnacle of the modern sans-serif that is Helvetica.
But certainly Mad Men’s art directors would know this, right? They wouldn’t use such an obvious Arial anachronism? So perhaps there are a few arguments that can save Mad Men from such a damning mistake in its first episode back.
1. It is not any typeface.
The logo isn’t on paper. It is not typed. It is not pre-fab lettering. It seems to be a stand-alone, one-time creation for the new company of Sterling Cooper Draper Price. Perhaps the craftsman who created it merely made up his own lettering and went from there, rather than adhering to an established font as a guide.
This would explain the similarity to Arial. The artist looked at whatever sans-serif he had around to get a sense of design and then just kind of deviated from the standard shape.
2. It is Akzidenz Grotesk
I took the super-duper high quality camera-phone picture of a paused TV show and tried putting into What The Font. However, the website had a problem with the shape, contrast, etc. So I fumbled around with the SCDP logo and came up with this:
When I put this into What The Font, its top answer seemed awfully close: Berthold Akzidenz-Grotesk.
Akizdenz-Grotesk would actually be a great typeface for the Mad Men art directors to have used. According to Wikipedia, it was created in 1898 and was the first sans-serif typeface to be widely used, and it ended up influencing many later neo-grotesk typefaces. Neo-grotesk typefaces like Neue Haas Grotesk, or as it was renamed in 1960: Helvetica.
So lets compare Akzidenz-Grotesk to Arial.
The height of the C in Arial in comparison to Akidenz seems to be the most obvious difference, but is it notable enough to prove that the Sterling Cooper Draper Price slogan is not in Arial?
I have enough faith in the Mad Men art directors to believe that they would have gone with not the FAIL of Arial, and not the obvious choice of Helvetia, but instead would have chosen something old and classic for the ’60s. Lest we forget, Helvetica was just released in 1960, only a few years before tonight’s episode. Furthermore, one can imagine that it would be slightly difficult to get large metal letters in the shape of newly released typefaces. One would have to get letters in something that had been around for a while. Something that factories had been putting out for a while, making in bulk. Something like Akzidenz Grotesk.
Mad Men art directors, I will never doubt you again.