The Old Testament

Self-appointed pontificator.” That epithet was tossed at me by an author I reviewed as part of a New Testament of ad/marketing books in the Dec. 12 issue of this magazine. I plead guilty to “pontificator” but duck “self-appointed,” as I distinctly remember puffs of white smoke emerging from the old Wanamaker’s on Broadway and 8th that now houses Adweek when the College of Cardinals there asked me to do a monthly column.

The symbols for these books of the Old Testament: The library lion = out of print. The movie camera = make a film. Dollar sign = useful. A smile = read for pleasure.

My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising, by Claude Hopkins. Genesis, in a way. Hopkins did not think like a mass marketer; he would be comfortable today with one-on-one selling and the Internet. His first medium was mail in the days of two and even three deliveries a day, a time when letter-writing kept people in touch. He was, at first, a client who wrote his own copy. He never founded an agency, nor wanted to, but saw his great mistake as not earlier selling objects of his own devising and ownership. He worked in magazines and newspapers, too, and studied products, not consumers. He counted every coupon, though, comparing returns as reactions to his thoughts and measuring the cost of white space to help assess return on investment. He became the copy chief of Lord & Thomas, today’s Foote Cone & Belding, where his successor invented the soap opera and, therefore, broadcast advertising. Every syllable says 19th century: He puts a period in “ads.” as an abbreviation and is the embodiment of the Puritan work ethic in its best sense. David Ogilvy read his books seven times and said they changed his life; I read them once and remain untouched to that extent but moved by the spare sincerity.

The Art of Persuasion: A History of Advertising Photography, by Robert A. Sobieszek. Here is the first before-and-after ad photo: circa 1884, a Harden Star hand-grenade fire extinguisher. An anti-Molotov cocktail six years before the birth of Molotov.

Paul Rand, by Steven Heller. Tremendously influential, but only for a short period as the most ripped-off graphic designer in a business that produces more epigones than even advertising or television programming.

Disruption and Beyond Disruption. The first by Jean-Marie Dru; the second by Dru and colleagues from a quarter of the United Nations, including Schenectady and Tom Carroll. Disruption is useful, although I don’t trust translations from French. (In 1963, I had to read Swann’s Way for school. Translator was C.K. Scott Moncrieff, who rendered the opening line, “For a long time I used to go to bed early.” That sufficed until 2003, when a new edition opened with, “For a long time, I went to bed early.” That should have settled things, but another guy came along and said they were both nuts. It should read, “For a long time now, I have been going to bed early.” Now, this is just one sentence in the seven-volume Remembrance of Things Past, and Dru may be as dense as Proust for all I know.)

Disruption Stories, by Warren Berger with Dru and Lee Clow. Works in any language, but would be more readable in a typeface with serifs.

Absolut Book, by Richard W. Lewis. As good as the sequel, perhaps better, but I looked at the first one second.

Tested Advertising Methods, by John Caples, revised by Fred E. Hahn, fifth edition. They gave me the third edition on my first job. Caples specialized in persuasion, not recall, although I remember the 80-year-old piano ad, so Caples wasn’t a slouch at that either. His penchant for numbered lists—a business-book technique that has come to irritate me—is forgiven since Caples was the first to do it. I took his test and got an 80. I did better the first time.

The Art of Writing Advertising, by Denis Higgins. Interviews with Bernbach, Burnett, Gribbin, Ogilvy and Reeves. Rosser Reeves wins this WWE Royal Rumble. He was such a wiseass iconoclast, which I thought belied his work, but now I don’t know. Carl Ally considered him a great intellect. Carl said, “We played chess, and he beat me in two moves.” (I was not courageous enough to tell my boss that he had fallen victim to the Fool’s Mate, attributable more to the incompetence of the player who moves first than to the genius of the player who moves second.)

Reality in Advertising, by Rosser Reeves. “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands” would never pass a focus group today. Some sandwich-chomping critic would say, “Who holds candy long enough for it to melt?” Or: “Well, if I lived on the equator I might try it, but I’m from Queens Village, ya know, on Springfield Boulevard.” Or: “Not another global warming product!” I myself question Reeves’s Anacin work—not its efficacy but its characterization: It is more like surreality in advertising.

How to Write a Good Advertisement, by Victor O. Schwab. Some high school could use this book for an ad course. Review questions end most chapters, and I did OK, but would do better if a sophomore.

How to Advertise, by Kenneth Roman and Jane Maas with Martin Nisenholtz. Updated edition. Most useful to a person put in charge of advertising despite having no experience at advertising. The glossary taught me to spell “tachistoscope.”

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, by Al Ries and Laura Ries. Ten laws were good enough for Yahweh and Moses, but (hey) this is marketing. I memorized them to stave off Alzheimer’s, so they’d better not mutate. Ries and Ries wrote with great energy and produced a book that readers can profit by. Only one law, “The Law of Publicity. The birth of a brand is achieved with publicity, not advertising,” conflicts with my memory. Federal Express, MCI and midwife Ally & Gargano delivered brands with gobs of television advertising plus postnatal value for customers. In our own agency’s case, the Nasdaq brand was stillborn until juvenated by TV advertising, first in New York and San Francisco, then nationally. I’m sure other memories carry other exceptions.

History class:

Madison Avenue, USA, by Martin Mayer. The ad game at the peak of its power in the ’50s: determining content of broadcasting, producing the content, interrupting the content and getting 15 and 17.65 percent.

The 100 Best TV Commercials … and Why They Worked, by Bernice Kanner. As of 1998, anyway. Good text on why each was chosen. Would benefit from a DVD. My thanks to Bernice for picking a spot I did with George Euringer, Bob Giraldi and William McGowan, late CEO of MCI.

The Advertising Man, by Jack Dillon. George Rike, the late Doyle Dane Bernbach copywriter, once told me that “to understand the Victorian Age, don’t read the historians, read the novels of Anthony Trollope.” To see what the Creative Revolution and the Countercreative Revolution were like, read novelist/copywriter Jack Dillon. Rike is in the book, as are Floyd Stone, Helmut Krone and a wonderfully drawn archetypal account/money man. Best read with a Beefeater martini straight up and a pack of nonfiltered Camels.

Bill Bernbach’s Book, by Bob Levenson. The non-fiction part of the Creative Revolution. Doyle Dane Bernbach at its zenith. Rumor a while back was that there was a big overlay on eBay to buy this book. I didn’t check it out, but I have two copies and I’m not selling.

Helmut Krone. The book, by Clive Challis. Monumental. I read it before this marathon began, and I will read it again someday. Proof that sans-serif unreversed type can be appreciated and welcomed in small doses like Volkswagen body copy.

When Advertising Tried Harder, by Larry Dobrow. Excellent book covering the best of Ally, Delehanty, Doyle, Tinker, Wells and the others who created ephemera that lasted. I had forgotten this book and was glad to be reminded by copywriter Israel Garber (who is younger than most of the work) and Dobrow, who kindly sent me a copy.

A Big Life (in advertising), by Mary Wells Lawrence. I tried three times to work for Mrs. Lawrence. I was rebuffed each time, but at the last meeting she gave me advice: “If you ever want to start your own agency, do it. Otherwise, you will always be bitter.” My partners and I started an agency 15 months later. She has a startling piece of advice on pages 95-96 via Bill Bernbach for those who want to start their own agency or run someone else’s. I would tell it here, but the advice is so pungent, you should pay to read it. And everything else in the book.

Confessions of an Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy. I re-read this in a 2004 edition published in England for £9.99. The great Alan Parker writes a nice intro; Ogilvy’s 1988 preface is here, a fun recapitulation of why he wrote the book and the satisfying results; the back page is set in sans-serif reverse type, which tells me Sir David would toss the book across the Mersey if he saw it. This was the other book they gave me on my first job. It’s still interesting, even though there are no confessions, but a tone from someone you’d hire if an advertiser or work for if an employee, whether executive or trainee.

Ogilvy on Advertising, by David Ogilvy. Only read it if you read the one above. He makes 13 predictions at the end, including, “Candidates for public office will stop using dishonest advertising.” That’s the only naiveté I could find in all his pages.

From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, by Jerry Della Femina. The Ball Four of advertising books. It is dated and contemporary; shrewd and unwise; avuncular and juvenile. For those who grew up in New York, going to work in advertising was not unlike going to work for steel in Pittsburgh, coal in West Virginia or tires in Akron. I always thought Della Femina had too much fun being Jerry B. Jerry to write the great American ad, but he did write the great American ad book.

Twenty Ads That Shook the World, by James B. Twitchell. Let me presume on Twitchell’s time: Somebody should give James B. a ton of money to do a history of advertising so comprehensive that it would tell the story of all the eras, plus DVDs. A potential collaborator, Larry Burday—line producer on two recent documentaries, The Boys of 2nd Street Park and Ring of Fire—is now at work on a filmed history of advertising.

Self-help class:

You Are the Message, by Roger Ailes with Jon Kraushar. Advertising the most important product, you. Ailes doesn’t do media coaching anymore unless he’s trying to calm down O’Reilly. But Kraushar does, and the book is still in print.

English lit class:

Advertising and Commodity Culture in Joyce, by Garry Leonard. The professor hypothesizes that jingles were done before radio. Questionable, but Joyce did write a fictional advert for Plumtree’s Potted Meat: “What is home without Plumtree’s Potted Meat? Incomplete. With it, an abode of bliss.”

French class:

Hollywood Lave Plus Blanc, by Jacques Séguéla. Hollywood washes whiter. Better line from Jacques, “Force Tranquil” for Mitterand, as opposed to a line for Chirac, “Force Rien.” French writers are great at paradox. I read this mot from one of them somewhere last week: “Celebrities are those who are known by many people who don’t know them.”

Science, philosophy or theology class:

The Future of Man, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I thought it might be funny to read what Marian, Ira and Ann got their title from for The Future of Men. Wasn’t, but interesting because the author is both an evolutionist and a theist, a scientist and a proponent of intelligent design. Mario Cuomo (Saint John’s Prep ’49) was a big fan of Teilhard de Chardin. Maybe the former governor can join the current intelligent-design debate and show the distinction between science and philosophy, empirical investigation and apologetics.

Guidance counseling:

Risking more suffering for readers, I’m extending the biblical metaphor here to create a Pentateuch, a five-volume Torah-like collection.

Let’s say you’re a year away from your 16th birthday, the moment when the all-knowing, all-powerful state says you can escape the burden of formal education.

OK. Absorb and put into practice the books below. Read everything in their bibliographies, too. Then quit school and get a job in advertising. Find some clients and start your own agency. Sell the business to the Chinese capitalists, and by 26 you’ll never have to work again.

I. Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, by Luke Sullivan. The best primer for someone who wants to write, art direct or produce. Fun to read, too.

II. Positioning, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. The cover tells you it is a classic. Truthful cover.

III. The Art of Client Service, by Robert Solomon. Fifty-four things every advertising and marketing professional should know about “servicing a client.” Read this at the beginning of your career rather than at the end, like me.

IV. Truth, Lies and Advertising, by Jon Steel. Research, account planning, thinking. Whatever you want to call it, done as well as it can be done.

V. Advertising Secrets of the Written Word, by Joseph Sugarman. If Mr. Sullivan is too much fun, Sugarman is like solid geometry after Luke’s art appreciation class.

I failed. I could not read Building Strong Brands, by David A. Aaker, or Harvard Business Review on Brand Management. The former seems like a very valuable book; the latter is just reprints of articles in HBR. But I’m like a runner in the New York City marathon who does 26 miles and with only 170 yards left, sees Jean-Georges on his left as he is about to enter Central Park, says, “Screw it,” enters the restaurant and has a couple of plates of choucroute garni and a bottle of Alsatian wine.

This was an experiment in self-improvement, a reading program in which I was the subject of my own investigation.

Biggest effect has been the toll typefaces took on my eyes. Along with being assaulted by incessant, loud rap music, rumor has it prisoners at Guantanamo are threatened with subscriptions to ESPN the Magazine and Korans in English, untouched by infidels’ hands but resplendent in sans-serif reverse Helvetica.

Tom Messner is a partner at Euro RSCG in New York and a monthly ‘Adweek’ columnist. He can be reached at

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