After yesterday’s heated heated discussion in the blogospheres about the actual font used for Sterling Cooper Draper Price’s new logo (It is Akzidenz-Grotesk, damn it!) the question still remains about why they would not just go with Helvetica.
There is the question of whether Helvetica would be popular enough state-side by 1963-’64 to be used for major signage. Heck, maybe the rise of Helvetica would mark a subtle plot point in the fourth season. However, as @TheRevDoctor pointed out, Helvetica had already been used in the American Airlines advertising campaign from season 2.
Still, one campaign is not enough to mark a complete awareness. It is not like they had some huge sign in the office that was like: THIS IS HELVETICA AND IT IS AWESOME.
Thanks to Doc’s keen eye, we know that the designers at Sterling Cooper Draper Price were quite aware of the modernity-defining typeface that is Helvetica. But the question still stands of why they would go with Akzidenz-Grotesk for the company logo even if they were aware of its typeface design progeny.
Maybe there is some credence to the idea that it easier to get giant metal letters and other random branding paraphernalia set in well-established typefaces. But then again, with something as important as company branding, you probably go custom-made. Furthermore, as the poster and American Airlines advertising campaign demonstrate, the typeface was well known by then.
Perhaps instead, the newly founded company wanted to go with a typeface that, while connected to the new era, still communicated a sense of establishment and stability. Therefore, they went with the proto-grotesk that is Akzidenz-Grotesk.
Or maybe the creators knew very well that people scrutinize Mad Men to such an insane degree that they could build up Internet buzz about the show simply by choosing a typeface that looks at first glance like the reviled Arial, rather than Helvetica, but is actually something that would have been somewhat appropriate for a company to choose at the time.
But that’s crazy, right? Right?
In conclusion, Akzidenz-Grotesk is a typeface of contrast.