So you’ve decided to join the ranks of trend makers, social stylists and idea junkies readily known as advertising people. Well done. Career paths abound and despite all the blips and cues that are changing the way people engage with media, products and services, advertising hasn’t changed all that much. It’s still the kingdom of dreams, where desire meets promise.
There are thousands of books on the subject of advertising: how to do it, why it works, best practices, case studies, the list of topics is endless. But most of that stuff can be learned on the job. What can’t be absorbed through osmosis is context—the thinking behind the thinking. Anyone can follow along in a manual or textbook. This is an essential reading list for anyone wanting to train their brain for a life in the world of big ideas.
Money, by Martin Amis
Before becoming England’s bad boy of literature, Amis was a copywriter for Ogilvy and Mather. He hated it. His best-selling novel, Money, is a seething look at the life of ad man, Jon Self, and paints the practitioners of advertising in a sardonic but hilarious light. A how-to for life in the painfully fast lane. The takeaway for anyone interested in an advertising career is that things can get greasy fast, and out of control even faster if you don’t set limits. John eats too much, drinks too, smokes too much, works too much and is, well… too much. Excess is never good, even at your dream job.
Ogilvy on Advertising, by David Ogilvy
Once considered the bible of Mad Men-esque advertising techniques, tips and advice, this was the definitive insider’s guide to understanding the ins and outs of the business. And it’s still relevant today, despite having been published 35 years ago. The book has been superseded by a host of imitators and digital trends, but it still reads better and rings truer than anything written since. Ogilvy has a way of cutting through industry jargon and misnomers with charming intelligence, sharing insights that will stay with you for your entire advertising career. It’s certainly the most optimistic and helpful of the books that make up this humble list.
No Logo, by Naomi Klein
Klein has a way of ripping back the ethos of advertising and exposing what she considers the underbelly of marketing. Know thy enemy. You can buy into the doom and gloom the author renders regarding the “marketing of cool” if you like, but the reason this easily digestible book has entered the zeitgeist is because it feels so complete. Klein will tell you everything you need to know about how “cool” became a commodity.
Ulysses, by James Joyce
This book should be on every reading list for a million reasons. Ulysses is an undeniable literary work of genius. And yes, the main character, Leopold Bloom, does indeed work in advertising as a canvasser, which essentially means he makes and places ads. Considering that nothing Joyce ever wrote was without intent, we have to presume that Bloom is an ad man for a reason. Maybe it’s because advertising consumes all, reflects all and is the chief signifier of the modern predicament. Or not. Either way, this is the big daddy of language. A must for any aspiring copywriter.
Greek Mythology, Various
Know your gods. The core values of every strong brand can be expressed, summed up or examined against these legendary tragic heroes. Pick yourself up a Knox translation of Ovid or Hesiod at any used book store and begin your journey through time. Is Apple a Prometheus or Hercules type? Does your favourite laundry detergent embody the spirit of Hera or Artemis? And what ever you do, don’t be a Cassandra.
Advertising is more competitive than a vampire rodeo but you can get there if you really want it. These books just go to show how many brilliant people sit around thinking about ads all day long. And regardless of whether you want to be a copywriter, art director, strategist, accounts exec, social media guru, web developer, U/X specialist or whatever, there’s a place for you in the business. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
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