Just Asking

We asked industry execs which literary figures would make the best copywriters—and why?

Pablo Neruda. His words have R-rated meaning delivered in G-rated verse. —Peter Nicholson, partner, CCO, Deutsch, New York

Ellsworth Toohey [a character from The Fountain-head], a persuasive manipulator of culture who leveraged the great middle. He might well prove to be the ultimate alter ego of Generation X’s infatuation with their own dissent, and the nemesis of the hyperbolic elite with their fetish for all things glittery and rare. —Alicia Johnson, ecd, Euro RSCG, New York

Charles Bukowski. He could be his own focus group on any booze account. —Jonathan Schoenberg, partner, cd, TDA Advertising & Design, Boulder, Colo.

With his sharp tongue, quick wit and impeccable rhythm, Dashiell Hammett’s storytelling and insight into the human condition would make him an awesome copywriter. —Bruce Lev, partner, LevLane, Philadelphia

Don DeLillo [author of Underworld] because he has a background in advertising and no one has a better control of the contemporary English language. —Andrew Essex, CEO, Droga5, New York

Oliver Wendell Holmes. His poem Old Ironsides actually saved the U.S.S. Constitution from being scrapped by the Navy in 1830. —John Hart, principal, John Hart Creative Services, Chicago

Shakespeare. He could make even the smallest idea sound intriguing and important. He may even have been a copywriter in his spare time. I can see the ad now: “Out damned spot . . . with better cleaning power than ever.” —Gerry Killeen, managing director, creative services, The Kaplan Thaler Group, New York

Ernest Hemingway. He could fit more into a short sentence than anyone else—that is the primary element of copywriting. Hemingway could get more action, emotion and description into a sentence without length than any other writer. —Lester Wunderman, founder, chairman emeritus, Wunderman, New York

Though we know most famous literary figures tried to write ad copy and failed miserably, some did pretty well. Notably Hemingway, whose terse, vivid prose lent itself well to tiny copy holes under photos of guys smoking cigars and shooting lions. I’d also vote for Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan.) He got everyone buying the idea of an English lord raised by monkeys who travels by vine all over Africa, a place Burroughs had never seen. —Chris Knopf, chairman, ecd, Mintz & Hoke, Avon, Conn.

Vladimir Nabokov was an excellent storyteller, and at its best, advertising tells stories that move people. English was not his first language; as a result, he was incredibly inventive and playful with English. That’s something I look for when I’m hiring a copywriter. —Ted Page, ecd, Captains of Industry, Watertown, Mass.

Jon Krakauer [author of Under the Banner of Heaven] because he’s so good at immersing himself in the story and telling the real untold story. —John Winsor, co-director, cognitive and cultural studies, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Boulder, Colo.

Thomas Paine. He wrote the Rights of Man, which served to inspire the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. Why? He took the idea for his book from the overly intellectual thinking laid out by the French republicans who invented modern democracy, but made it so incredibly complicated only the very few understood what French democracy was or still is to this day about. TP was one of the world’s greatest copywriters who took an overly complex idea and made it totally easy to understand and very inspiring to engage with. So much so he helped found the greatest democracy in history. Not bad for a copywriter. —Scott Goodson, founder, CEO, StrawberryFrog, New York