February 17, 2010
I’ve just finished a couple of books about the advertising industry that Peepshow readers might find enlightening. Or not. The first, “Where Suckers Moon — The Life and Death of an Advertising Campaign” is a fascinating, behind-the-scenes view of an advertising account review conducted by Subaru in 1991. Meticulously researched and written by former New York Times reporter Randall Rothenberg, the book offers a detailed account of five ad agencies pulling out all the stops in pursuit of a coveted car account. Rothenberg was given virtually unfettered access to the “sausage-making” that is a new business pitch, and offers a rare look at how the executives involved in selecting their new agency assessed the various finalists and their pitches. For those involved in new-business pitching, it’s a sobering and often maddening must-read. (Also sobering is Rothenberg’s vivid account of the deterioration of the relationship between Subaru and the winning agency, Wieden & Kennedy. Our cross-town friends at Fallon would be wise to give it a read as they embark on their Chrysler work.) Although horribly dated by its pre-internet view of the ad business, “Where Suckers Moon” remains a relevant exploration of often complex client/agency relationships. Hey Pat: My dog-eared copy is up for grabs.
The other industry book I just finished was written by ad-exec-turned-novelist, James Othmer. Othmer spent 20 years as a creative at various NY-based ad agencies, and his book, “Adland — Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet,” offers a glimpse at a rather unspectacular career at some rather unspectacular big ad agencies. That’s not my assessment, it’s Othmer’s. Othmer writes with the voice of a guy who’s made a living pounding out mountains of ad copy, and he turns his rather jaded eye on a variety of topics, from day-to-day life at a dying agency, to the future of the industry he bailed on to pursue a writing career. It’s not as scholarly as Rothenberg’s book, but I think for those contemplating agency life, it offers an accurate portrayal of the ups and downs in the trenches. As the title suggests, Othmer dwells on the question we all ask ourselves from time to time: “Does what I do for a living really matter?” One former ad guy’s thoughtful and honest exploration of that question alone makes “Adland” a worthwhile read.