Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

A good book about advertising

Published in Jan-Feb 2017

Dave Marinaccio’s "Admen, Mad Men and the Real World of Advertising" in review.

In the midst of reading Dave Marinaccio’s book I remembered a conversation that I, an advertising copywriter, had with a marketing degree-holding sports-show developer.

He: What is a good ad? Me: One that sells a lot of stuff. He: No. A ‘good’ ad is one that meets the client’s brief.

My ignorance of the premise was inexcusable seeing as how my job description was literally ‘make ads’, but the thing is, we copywriters aren’t hired because we have MBAs; we’re hired because we can write. Art directors are hired because they understand pictures. Thus, it’s a good idea for our types to pick up a book and learn about the ad business.

Books about advertising are usually either theoretical or memoirs. Theoretical books about advertising, like theoretical books about anything, are dull. Memoirs are interesting, but people don’t tend to learn from someone else’s mistakes. A really useful book about advertising would be like those papier-mâché volcanoes we made as kids; 30 years later, one doesn’t remember any chemical formulas, but one forever knows that by mixing vinegar and baking soda, one achieves bubbles.

Ad Men, Mad Men and the Real World of Advertising is a useful book for explaining the ad business. Marinaccio doesn’t try to be deep or philosophical. He says it like it is, e.g., “Advertising is not created to sell products to consumers. It is created to sell advertising to clients of advertising agencies.”

I did not know this. All newbies should know this. It can shield their fragile aspirations from the disillusion and heartbreak that is inevitably bound to come.

Marinaccio claims anyone in the business – overlord, underling, middleman – should find it useful. And they probably would – I just found out at page 28 exactly what media it is that a media buyer buys, and I spent four years helping to make ‘cross-platform campaigns’.

He explains why clients must share their true agendas with the agency if they expect to receive stellar work. Meaning, you can be vague (“We want to expand our customer base”), or you can be honest (“That other soap is hijacking our USP and we’re worried”).

Describing the folders of colourful spec work presented by job hopefuls, he remarks, “just once I would like to see [these kids write] an ad for a boring product like a dishwasher.” This is an insider tip he’s sharing: show that you can tackle the tougher projects no one likes to do, and you’re more likely to get the job.

He discusses pains anyone in advertising is all too familiar with: clients demanding “make my logo bigger”; relatives grabbing you at weddings and insisting you cast them – or their little darlings – in your next commercial. The man understands. It’s like reminiscing with an old buddy you never knew you had.

If I ran an ad agency, I’d make this book mandatory staff reading. I’d put it in a gift basket with some fruit and send it to clients. It’s a doddle to read with its short, punchy paragraphs, and for those who enjoy a good book but cannot deal with complex prose for a while because they’ve spent the entire day trying to make “holistic solutions for all your computing needs” sound like it actually means something, this would be a welcome break.

In the spirit of fairness, I suppose I ought to state a few negatives. Except that I don’t want to – as Anton Ego, restaurant critic extraordinaire from Ratatouille, said, “The work of a critic is easy. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.” This book is not a literary masterpiece and that’s fine. It’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to tell us what advertising is really like, and in that, it meets the brief.

Admen, Mad Men, and the Real World of Advertising

By Dave Marinaccio Arcade Publishing 211 pp. Rs 1,795

Sarwat Yasmeen Azeem is a DAWN staffer.