From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor: Front-line Dispatches from the Advertising War by Jerry Della Femina.
This book was originally published in 1970 – an insider’s guide to the goings on in the ad industry in the 1960s by a guy who was there – one of the original Mad Men. Thanks to the success of the wonderful series (which in my humble opinion is the best thing on TV at the moment), Jerry D.F.’s book has been republished with the flash on the front The cult classic that inspired mad Men. Nothing’s been changed, just a paragraph of introduction added to remind us that the book was written in 1969 and that over 99% of it is true. JDF worked his way up in the ad industry from post-boy through creative copywriter to agency partner – he’s been there, done that – so I was really looking forward to reading this book when a copy was available.
Certain scenes and themes in the book which viewers of the TV series will recognise were there: – the accounts guys who move agencies with companies in their pockets (which will lead to their demise at their new agencies); the stoners in the creative department; the never-ending battles between accounts and creative, and the expense-account lifestyle.
Sadly though, this book was a let-down for me on several fronts. Firstly, all the agency names – ad-men are as bad as lawyers for calling themselves after all their partners, creating cumbersome mouthfuls that with few exceptions are not international monickers that we’ve ever heard of with the result that the names rather got in the way a lot of the time. More importantly though, the structure of the book was rambling, repetitive and full of digressions, jumping all over the place and frankly I got rather bored.
But it wasn’t all bad by a long shot. There’s a nice scene where JDF describes when a copywriter and art director click and are on fire with ideas. One thing that comes home though is that advertising is a fickle business – everyone’s jobs are on the line every day, particularly those in accounts:
With the creative guys becoming more important, the account guys are having a tougher time of it. The entire structure of advertising is being disturbed. I get an account, and somebody loses a job someplace….
…. Part of the problem, especially with the account guys, is that they are living way over their heads. Advertising is a business that goes first class all the way. When you get hooked on the expense-account way of life, there’s a tendency to try and live out of the office the way you do in the office….
…. The account man is in the only business in the world where he gets hired, is paid a lot of money for four or five years, and then at one point he’s told he’s not worth anything any more because they’ve lost the account. You know, if you go into any other business in the world and you last five years or so you’re going to live there forever. You go to work in this business and if you last for five years the chances are you’re going to be fired the next day. Seniority means nothing.
It almost makes you feel just a tad of sympathy for oily, pushy Pete Campbell in Mad Men … NAH! Scrap that.
This book was fascinating and maddening in equal measure – but it fed my secret fantasy of working for a top ad agency and coming up with something as brilliant as the Smash Martians or the R White’s Lemonade (which in case you didn’t know starred Elvis Costello’s dad). Such stuff as dreams are made on … as Propsero says in the Tempest (6/10)
P.S. The book title comes from a line JDF tossed into a brainstorm meeting for a Japanese electronics manufacturer.
This post was republished into its original place in my blog’s timeline from my lost posts archive
Source: Review copy – thank you
Jerry Della Femina (Canongate, 2010) paperback, 288 pages.