NEW YORK Steffan Postaer, the 46-year-old chief creative officer of Euro RSCG in Chicago, has been grappling with his own spirituality and career path for years. How do you "do the right thing" when you are in the business of promoting six of the seven deadly sins? "By writing this book," says Postaer with a laugh.
His second novel, The Happy Soul Industry, a book about God hiring an ad agency to market heaven, is due out this month from Inkwater Press. "I struggle with it, but it gives me peace to know that the tension between those big ideas, my job and the idea of doing the next right thing, it's an electric place for creativity. It's how art is made. That's how this book was made," says Postaer, a copywriter by trade.
The plot: God, despondent over humanity's disinterest in goodness, decides to hire an ad agency to create an advertising campaign for heaven. "Fire and brimstone ... Wine from water ... The Ten Commandments ... Forgive my repetition but this sort of thing motivates no one. Not anymore," says God to the angel she's assigned to the task in the book's first chapter. "In order to inspire goodness, we've got to improve our image, which means, dare I say it, we need better copy!"
Three years in the making, The Happy Soul Industry, written after the bedtimes of his three daughters and while traveling on airplanes, Postaer says, is not literature. "It's my take on pop culture and my contribution to it," says the copywriter who is best known for the award-winning work he created while at Leo Burnett, Chicago, for Altoids. "I'm potentially as culpable as the characters in the book."
Postaer characterizes the novel as "a modern fable about good and evil," with the advertising industry, naturally, playing the part of evil. He's only half-joking in the book, he says, when he talks about the fact that it is a worrying time. "There's a notion out there that popular culture is so distracting and so powerful an influencer, everywhere your eyes and ears are pointed at there is something that is telling you need this to be happy, you need to look like that to be happy, you need to be as rich as him, you need to be on this TV show, you need to be on the Internet. ... There is no time to stop and meditate to think about your blessings," he explains. "Where do you have your quiet time? You watch without being sold something? Where does it end? What is not for sale? The devil and God come to terms in this novel over that point. ... Both have a lot to learn from the other."
Postaer has high hopes for the book, having written a screenplay for what he envisions could make a compelling film. His previous novel, The Last Generation, was optioned by Touchstone for a TV series but was never produced. "I've fantasized every angle," he admits, sharing his vision of a young Tom Hanks as the lead advertising character, Vernon Knight, CEO of a hip Los Angeles agency, a shop he says is a "quirky version of a Chiat/Day."
If he has done his job right, Postaer adds, industry colleagues will see many familiar places and scenarios. In one scene, the angel who has been charged with hiring an agency, David Angelo (named not after the real-life David Angelo of davidandgoliath, but a happy coincidence, says Postaer), watches a group of ad executives drink martinis at The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills and gets a glimpse of how difficult it will be to pitch goodness to humanity when he sees how backbiting and bitter they can be as they ogle women at the bar and make fun of competitors at other shops. "That to me is an important part of capturing our reality and showing it for what it is. Those things will remind him over and over again just how hard it is to convince people to be good," he says.
Yet while the book poses some profound questions, Postaer stresses it is a light read and doesn't expect it to serve as the catalyst for spiritual change. "It's for fun, it's just to point that stuff out," says Postaer, who has launched two Web sites to promote the volume, HappySoulIndustry.com and How-Are-You.net, a blog based on the advertising campaign that is created in the book. "I don't think people will be moved and they will not quit their job or start to go to church. I just think it's an interesting concept to market heaven."