Joshua Ferris Is the Upton Sinclair of Advertising


Then We Came to the End is a new novel by Joshua Ferris that’s currently making waves with ad and design folk for presenting an unflattering yet brilliant mirror in which to see ourselves. The main character works as a copywriter in a Chicago ad agency just after the dot-com collapse (hey, we’ve all been there, huh?), not unlike where Ferris himself worked before moving to New York. In an interview with Simon Dumenco, we find out just how horrifyingly close this fiction is to our actual creative culture:

For me, one of the most shockingly funny passages in your book comes within the first 25 pages: When one office worker’s little girl goes missing and her colleagues volunteer to create a “missing” flier — and then the group of them overthink it. They can’t help but color-correct her image because the snapshot is sort of washed out, so then they also play up her hair and freckles, and then they obsess about the kerning on the “$10,000 REWARD” type, and even consider doing a little Photoshop work on her teeth. When you worked in advertising, how much of an overthinker were you?

Most of the time I was doing pretty copy-heavy projects — newsletters, brochures. I’d start overthinking only when it came to concepting. Then I’d get very elaborate with my visuals and ornate with my headlines. I’d turn a half-page print ad into an eight-fold pop-up with a lenticular and a music-chip insert. By that time someone would have emerged from an office with a very pithy, very entertaining six-word sentence, to be accompanied by an image as simple as a clown’s face, and it would say everything the client requested in a perfectly clever way. I’d return sheepishly to my office with my origami.