Advertising Books Have All the Fun

I have yet to have someone launch into a rave account of a so-called “business book” without experiencing a shudder. The very term conjures up images of suits sitting around a conference table discussing how to “seamlessly integrate value chains” and the “leveraging capabilities of management synergies.” On the other hand, if someone walks up to me and says something along the lines of, “So, I bought this business book, but it turns out that it’s all about advertising and who really cares about that? This is so lame,” my ears perk up. As soon as they leave, I pull the book out of the garbage, dust the coffee grounds off of it, and crack it open. I am one of those frustrating people who learn by example, which means that a book full of case studies will be more useful than a textbook, and more fun than a trip to Disneyland (gross exaggeration there).

So, what books get my heart racing faster than a Kentucky Derby winner? I have to admit I may have been influenced by employers and professors both past and present, but here are three of my favorites.

1) Juicing the Orange by Pat Fallon and Fred Senn. Maybe it’s because Fallon started in my home state of Minnesota, long before notable agencies existed off of Madison Ave, or maybe it’s because I love their work (especially the Sony Bravia rollout), but this is one of my favorite reads. Juicing the orange refers to the fact that there is only so much juice (profit) in a piece of fruit and it must be leveraged to the last drop in order to get great returns. Each chapter is devoted to a client with a problem, something all agencies can relate to. Fallon approaches these advertising solutions with an artistic air that is sometimes lacking in mainstream advertising, and I think their answers tend towards the elegant without sacrificing utility.

2) The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell. I have to admit that I’m a Gladwell geek. His books drip with statistics about things that I actually care about, like buying behavior and what makes a product cool to consumers. Yeah, there aren’t really stories about little advertising agencies triumphing over the big dogs, but it’s still full of little nuggets of knowledge. True, there are stories and stats about crime rates and what made Hush Puppies famous, but The Tipping Point also discusses what makes social epidemics happen. Think of it as going viral without involving YouTube. Gladwell also discusses “connectors, mavens, and salesmen,” three groups of individuals that could come in very handy in the world of advertising.

3) Then We Set His Hair on Fire by Phil Dusenberry, former chairman of BBDO North America. Phil is probably best remembered as the man responsible for igniting Michael Jackson’s hair. In addition to stories about incredibly famous ads, he explains the difference between an idea and an insight and how an insight can fuel an entire campaign. I love the book, but I have to admit that you won’t find any words of wisdom about digital marketing. Instead, think of this as celebrating that place somewhere between Mad Men and the modern age of marketing. Just remember, a great insight is still a great insight, and some things about advertising never change.

Since my calendar says that we are entering the dark days of winter (despite the thermometer refusing to drop below 20 degrees), why not try perusing one of these books? It’s a little old school, but at least you can read them on your iPad/kindle/nook while lamenting the lack of snow.

– Elizabeth (aka E)

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