Newswise — In the final episode of the first season of the monumental television drama “Mad Men,” Don Draper, the enigmatic genius, libertine creative director of fictional New York advertising firm Sterling Cooper, stands in front of a dark conference room and debuts a take on how a potential client, Kodak, should market their new invention: a photographic slide projector.

Kodak is intent on calling their device the Wheel — playing ironically on the world’s oldest technology reborn for the Space Age. But as Draper (played by the classically chiseled actor Jon Hamm) stands in to pitch, he shows the entire room the projector’s capability is not to rush us headlong into the ever-pressing future, but to cast us back into the gossamer past, to salve our nostalgia which, as Draper explains, is an Ancient Greek word denoting pain from an old wound.

“It’s not called the Wheel,” the ad man intones as many in the room go dewy-eyed over snapshots of Draper’s ostensibly quaint, All-American life and family. “It’s called the Carousel.”

There are any number of similar meta moments in “Mad Men,” which will begin airing the last half of its final season Sunday on AMC. But Draper’s disquisition on The Carousel — aiming precisely at all those outlandish trappings of the 1960s the show describes — seems to be the one best suited as a commentary for the show and its position as a cultural phenomenon of the early 21st century.

“What ‘Mad Men reflects is this Golden Age of Advertising steeped in the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s,” said Jeffrey Maciejewski, Ph.D., an associate professor of advertising at Creighton University who has studied widely in the advertising heyday of the “Mad Men” era. “Advertising is a great way to tell the story in the show, because what we see happen in ‘Mad Men’ is a growing appreciation for the work of creative people. What really gave birth to this new era in the world and in advertising was the recognition that creative people now held the power.”

Maciejewski sees in the show manifold forces at work, not the least of which is the advertising. “Mad Men” delves into the old protest of “advertising doesn’t work on me” and, in true Don Draper fashion, thoroughly debunks it. The show has portrayed the groundbreaking Volkswagen campaign of Doyle Dane Bernbach, the heyday of cigarette and alcohol advertising and the power of television and radio political attack ads, all within a densely-woven fabric of narrative — another advertising innovation of the 1960s.

“I’ve come to believe we’re beings that persuade and beings who need to be persuaded,” said Maciejewski, channeling his own inner Draper. “It’s a fundamental human need. Without persuasion, we’d never do anything. To say we’re not persuaded is to deny a fundamental human need. And how are we persuaded? We love stories, we love narrative. Advertising learned how to do that and do it extremely well in the 60s.”

The ad world of the 1960s, he said, was a time when the creatives at an agency were beginning to steadily take the artistic reins from the poets and painters and put their powers to use selling not so much stuff, but an image, a way of life, the life itself.

While Maciejewski admits he doesn’t catch every episode of “Mad Men,” he’s planning to tune in as the series winds up its eight-year run and see how the writers will represent the state of advertising at the dawn of the 1970s.

“That’s a question for us today, too,” he said. “Where is advertising going to go from here? What is advertising’s connection to life? In Draper’s day, it was a leap of faith that the client took that the creative department knew what they were doing. And back in the ‘Mad Men’ days, it was still pretty measurable. VW started selling a whole ton of cars taking one big leap of faith. Do we still have that today? I think there are still leaps of faith. With all this technology and social media, I think it’s harder to keep an audience engaged and have that translate into sales.”

And after the advertising, Maciejewski said he also enjoys the carouseling nostalgia of “Mad Men.” Unpacking an era in which American life transitioned into the world and culture we inhabit today, “Mad Men” has contended with everything from fashion to alcoholism to sexism to Civil Rights, usually yoked to that base human need to persuade or be persuaded.

“It’s definitely great drama they’ve infused into a story about advertising,” he said. “I knew right from the get-go it was going to be a hit. What is there not like? Advertising was a very sexy business to be in. Who wouldn’t want to get paid a lot of money to do some pretty cool stuff?”