Marshall McLuhan said the printed word is obsolete," an ad for World Magazine proclaimed in the mid-1970s. "To prove it," the headline continued, "he wrote 16 books."
Print is alive and may even be well, judging by the reaction to a reading project of mine (58 advertising and marketing books in two months, 29 in a New Testament and 29 in an Old) unveiled in the Nov. 8 Adweek, in response to the notion that advertising students don't read books.
I've written 12 columns here, and no other generated near the number of e-mails, letters and phone calls. Luckily, one resulted in help. Copywriter and author Mark Silveira volunteered to tackle Kevin Clark's Brandscendence, thereby reducing the workload by two, as Jacques Séguéla's Tous égo: Havas, moi et les autres was either held up in customs or seized in a Paris suburb as potential tinder.
More writing volunteers came to the fore than reading ones, though, as authors, fans (of the books, not the column) and book-PR folks nominated Gospel of St. Thomas-like contenders for Good Book inclusion. Some are older and should have been on the original list: The Book of Gossage; Randall Rothenberg's take on Subaru and schtick, Where the Suckers Moon; When Advertising Worked Harder; and How to Succeed in Advertising. One more came in after the photos were taken: What's a Saatchi ... and How Come We Have Two of Them? From the author's letter, he seems earnest, and the book seems like a good new-business tool. He asked me to "scan it," which was such a modest request that I did, and I am glad I did.
Slightly ironic: Jean-Marie Dru's Disruption was swiped from my office. A sequel to it is just out, and it is dazzling. I came close to swiping it myself from Alison Fahey's coffee table.
Every one of these books helps you to understand the history of the business. Whether that leads to success in the business, who knows. Maybe a Great Books curriculum would be a better one than now exists in college marketing departments.
All the books are the result of harder work than it takes to read them; nevertheless, I have to show some discernment here, so I am going to create three categories. Books you should buy are symbolized by a dollar sign; books you should borrow are symbolized by a library lion; books for which you should wait for the film version are symbolized by a movie camera.
Then We Set His Hair on Fire, by Phil Dusenberry. Passed my truth test, in which an author writes about something I know. I have to admit there are not many instances in this whole selection of books, but here, Phil describes the early years of Federal Express, with Ally & Gargano, and he got everything right, including the project in which the agency's research director (Fred Chernin) put sand in FedEx packages and ones sent via competitors. So I make the leap and assume everything else in the book is as true as it is entertaining. Phil is generous with credit, and that's also a credit to Phil.
Purple Cow. Free Prize Inside! All Marketers are Liars. All by Seth Godin. An element of Marvin Kitman's The Number One Best Seller and Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book exists here. A dedicated marketer of books, Godin released Purple Cow's first edition inside a milk carton. "Purple cow" then became his sobriquet for anything remarkable. Free Prize Inside! came inside a cereal box, and the book itself reveals a free prize inside. All Marketers are Liars comes with a cover of Godin with a Pinocchio nose, suggesting a Bertrand Russell notion that if Godin is a marketer and is telling the truth when he says all marketers are liars, then all marketers are not liars. Each is a big, big seller. I found it hard to trust his analysis after he singled out Masa as serving $300 dollar sushi. You can get $300 dollar sushi at Sushi of Gari or even Yama if you're a Sumo wrestler. Most (80 percent) of what Masa serves is not sushi. As Masa put it recently to a customer having an omelette enveloping sea eel following foie gras, "I got bored with sushi."
The Future of Men, by Marian Salzman, Ira Matathia and Ann O'Reilly. I left an almost-finished copy and a completely finished martini on the bar at San Domenico. (Movie plot: Bartender takes it home, reads it, tosses his towel and shakers, gets a job at JWT, becomes CEO and tosses Martin Sorrell.) Even if you disagree with the conclusions, the read is worth the time: Almost every sentence teaches you something to use on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, if not in the office. As it is, the future that Marian, Ira and Ann see is a lot better than other futures I've been reading about lately, and the cover art sees a definite future for tumescence.
And Now a Few Words From Me, by Bob Garfield. When I got a direct mail piece with Garfield recommending The Week magazine, I signed up for a sub, thinking he could be the Arthur Godfrey of the 21st century.
Lovemarks, by Kevin Roberts. I was prepared to dislike this book, and would have been thrown off a jury of critics for prejudice. But I can be easily seduced by good writing, exciting design and large type with serifs. It uses, ironic to me, all the tools of logic to show the superiority of emotion. There is, too, a remarkable epistemological quote from Yoshio Ishizaka that shows the biggest difference between the Old Testament books by Hopkins and Reeves and present-day advertising thinking. Those two guys thought the essence of a brand was within the product itself; the modernists, summed up by Yoshio Ishizaka, think "we really cannot determine anything. The customer does that. That is the essence."
Leap, by Bob Schmetterer. In the movie version, Peter Boyle plays me, Jackie Gleason having passed away. A good case- history book, actually, but I would read only a chapter a day to absorb and critique the cases. Schmetterer is a better copywriter, a better presenter, a better off-the-top-of-his-head communications strategist than this book reveals, though. Which is probably why no one asked me to join the purveyors of encomia on the back cover.
Absolut Sequel, by Richard W. Lewis. As beautiful and as well-done as a catalog from MOMA, it is proof that ads can be contemplated and, therefore, can be art in addition to being artful.
The Brand Gap, by Marty Neumeier. Well-written. No, very well-written. But I couldn't finish it because the entire book is in sans-serif type. A valuable glossary comes at the end. No, a very valuable glossary that can stand the lack of serifs because it is a short glossary. The subtitle is, "How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design." Type with serifs would be a start, however modest.
Truth, Lies and Advertising, by Jon Steel. I saw Steel present at an account-planning award show, and I saw him give a speech in front of a direct marketing group. He is as credible in the book as he was in person, and he resists the urge to employ hyperbole, which is the literary device most used in ad/marketing books. He lists The Prince in his bibliography, so maybe his understatement is a Machiavellian way to get me to appreciate fully his and his partners' achievements in the '90s in the U.S.
Whatever Happened to Madison Avenue? by Martin Mayer. Sequel to Madison Avenue, USA, 33 years after. This one, like the original, is undeservedly out of print. In fact, the copy I bought was a discard from the West Hernando branch of the Brooksville, Fla., library. If you care to know what the advertising business had been at the peak of its power in the '50s and what it will be like in the next few years, read both of them. Mayer writes without bias, rare for a reporter looking at this business. He was once commissioned to write a history of the Ted Bates agency, and when he turned in the assignment, fear required that all of the copies be destroyed. One survived. Even after all this reading, I'd like to see that one.
Your Call Is Important to Us, by Laura Penny. Subtitle is, "The Truth About Bullshit." The author is "tired of being put on hold." She, like many who descend into the underworld to expose it, ascends with enough of her own residue to fertilize the Gobi.
The New Positioning, by Jack Trout. In the mid-to-late '70s, this headline appeared in a trade publication: "John's Pizza repositioned as full meal." It was that easy. The crust is the appetizer; the pepperoni, the main course; and the mozzarella, dessert. Consider the sauce a soup, and you have a four-course meal. The excellent case histories in this book are far removed from the silliness of the John's Pizza positioning panacea prompted by Trout and Al Ries's earlier book, Positioning. There is, for example, a good chapter on political-candidate positioning.
Branded Nation, by James B. Twitchell. The author, an academic, dredged up an ad I did 15 years ago for a university on Long Island. He didn't understand the objective of the ad, but then again, only the president of the university and I did. Twitchell debunks Harvard as a brand, and that runs counter to the conventional wisdom, as Interbrand thinks Harvard is the university brand. Maybe if Twitchell is reading this, he'd be interested in a story: It's 1988, and my partner Ron Berger and I are sitting down at the end of a table talking to Lee Atwater, the late political strategist, before a meeting at Bush-Quayle headquarters. We are enthusing about basketball. I say, "You know, Lee, Ron here still holds the assist record at Hartford." Lee is aghast, his face twisting into a nauseous rage. "You went to Harvard?" "No, Lee," I quickly get in, "he went to Hartford. Hartford." "Oh, good," Lee, ever the populist, says with complete relief. "We don't want any Harvard boys in this campaign."
Advertising Secrets of the Written Word, by Joseph Sugarman. A great copywriter, and he tells you, in excruciating detail, how to become one. Could care less about branding. He wants only to sell you something, and if along the way JS&A becomes a brand, it's like adding a free corkscrew to a Ginzu-knife offer. No gooey emotions here. The author of one of the books on this list said Aristotle would not be a good copywriter. Nonsense. Sugarman is his reincarnation.
Brand Portfolio Strategy. Brand Leadership. Two by David A. Aaker, with help from Erich Joachimsthaler on the latter. I could not get to these in time. My apologies. Both are similar to textbooks as I remember them (review questions at the end of chapters) and look like they could be useful to high schools or colleges. I was going to fake it by memorizing the 20 takeaways at the end of the strategy book, but then realized I had no one I had to fake it to.
Brandscendence, by Kevin Clark. From Mark Silveira: "It would be easy to dismiss this book as intellectual claptrap, but that wouldn't be fair. The author is earnestly in pursuit of some sort of 'Black-Scholes model' for the creation of enduring brands. Unfortunately, as is the case with most books on the subject, this one is long on description and short on prescription, so it's like getting a list of every wheel, screw, bridge, spring, pin and pivot that goes into a Vacheron Constantin watch; after you read it, you still have no idea how to build one."
ordinary advertising. and how to avoid it like the plague, by Mark Silveira. One idea was to enlist Kevin Clark, author of Brandscendence, to review this. But then I would have missed reading Mark's book. It is (even though directed at advertisers) to indirect response what Sugarman's book is to direct. Mark's got to be the only person who worked for Wieden, Kennedy, Gargano, Ammirati and Puris. The reader, therefore, gains a wide range of experience. Also a nice thought on the back cover from Helayne Spivak: "It doesn't take guts to create and approve great work. It takes brains."
Brand Sense, by Martin Lindstrom. The Advertised Mind, by Erik Du Plessis. The former covers percepts; the latter, concepts. The books are beyond me, but that's my failing, not theirs.
The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing, by George Silverman. I wish I had read this one at the beginning of the project. A problem arises when one is listed-out, the 20-this and 15-that. The mind, or rather my mind, which used to be able to hand 52-thises and quite a few thats, if they were clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades, now can't retain one more six-step process. The author knows Tony Slydini, though, and I recommend he do a book on him. I will buy 52 copies in tribute to the genius of contemporary magic.
The Culting of Brands, by Douglas Atkins. I am ambivalent about this one. The author covers the World Wrestling Federation, which is a plus (I think, by the way, that changing the name to World Wrestling Entertainment was a grave error), but he makes far too much of a connection between spiritual beliefs and Harley-Davidson. Unless it's satire.
Buzzmarketing, by Mark Hughes. For a young guy, the author gets into a lot of marketing paleontology, going back as far as the Pepsizoic period in Dallas, 1975, covering ground Dusenberry does in his book. I wondered if the publisher used buzz to market the book. Downside of it all is my new irritant, lists. Another good book on buzz is Buzz, the product of Marian, Ira and Ann. The three authors show the distinction between buzz and buzz marketing, which is obvious but necessary to explain. To me.
Brain Tattoos, by Karen Post. I took the tattoo test on page 26 on behalf of Euro RSCG. The agency is "a baby brand ready to be born." No morning sickness yet.
Life After the 30-Second Spot, by Joseph Jaffe. Does one medium have to fail for another to succeed? Is mass media dead? Is there an afterlife for the 30-second spot? Wasn't there always a need to, as the subtitle asserts, "energize your brand with a bold mix of alternatives to traditional advertising"?
Four other late-arriving books I need to mention. 1) The Power of the Obvious, by Aldo Papone, with a foreward by copywriter David Metcalf. I am a fan of the obvious, and the obvious is never obvious to me. 2) The Pawnshop Chronicles, by Jack E Rossin (no period in the middle initial, like Harry S Truman). I read this very quickly but recommend that you borrow it rather than purchase it, in keeping with the pawnshop spirit. 3) The Breakaway Brand, by Fran Kelly and Barry Silverstein. It is funny how the concept of "brand" has taken over. The only "brand" from the '50s and '60s I remember is "Brand X." By the '70s and '80s, we had "Band-Aid brand band-aids" and "Sanka brand coffee." By the '90s, agencies realized they could enhance the intrinsic worth of a client by creating brand value, not just sales volume. And perhaps they could get paid better for it. 4) Knock The Hustle: How to Save Your Job and Your Life From Corporate America, by Hadji Williams. A courageous book. Courageous because of its subject matter, and courageous because Williams published it himself through his own company, Prodigal Pen.
Next month: Bernbach, Ogilvy, Hopkins, Dillon, Caples, Della Femina, Bloom and Joyce.
Tom Messner is a partner at Euro RSCG in New York and a monthly 'Adweek' columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.