Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Seven Books Every Advertising Executive Should Read

If you want to understand what the Mad Man era was really about and where the current business came from, I thought I would publish a list of my favorite books about the business and the people in it.  All were originally published (although most have been reprinted) prior to 1990, except the Mary Wells book, which is a great look back. Some of these are kind of a how to and others are philosophy, but all of them are interesting, fun and informative.

All of them are still available today.

            Confessions of An Advertising Man by David Ogilvy - Atheneum, 1963
            Long before he wrote Ogilvy on Advertising (1983), which is more of a
            personal philosophy on what works and what does not, David Ogilvy wrote
            this seminal book which is still required reading in many advertising

            From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor - Jerry Della
            Femina, Simon & Schuster, 1970
            Loaded with sometimes riotous anecdotes about the comings and going
of advertising people. He names names.  It remains one of the funniest
books on the business.  It is loaded with real mad men stories.

A Big Life (In Advertising), Mary Wells Lawrence - Simon & Schuster, 2002
Mary Wells is a pioneer of our business.  She wrote some of the greatest
(and most loved) campaigns of the 1960’s and was one of the first women
to start an agency, Wells, Rich, Greene.  She was also the first CEO of a New York Stock Exchange company.  Among the stories in the book are how she got Braniff Airlines to paint their planes in pastel colors and then married the airline’s chairman.

Reality in Advertising, Rosser Reeves - Knopf, 1961
Rosser Reeves was the master of the hard-sell and the creator of the USP
(Unique Selling Proposition).  He was the co-founder of Ted Bates & Company (now a part of WPP.  Although this book is somewhat dated and his philosophy went out of favor, but many of his tenets remain true today. It is an interesting read.

Bill Bernbach’s Book: A History Of The Advertising That Changed The History Of Adverising by Bob Levenson and Evelyn Bernbach – Villard Books, 1987
Every advertising person knows or should know Bill Bernbach.  He was a genius. 
His agency produced many of the greatest works in the history of the business.  While lots of examples of his work are in this book (every advertising person, in my opinion, should be familiar with them), it also tells his story as well as telling anecdotes about him and his quips to clients.

The Hidden Persuaders - Vance Packard, Random House, 1957
While somewhat dated, this book was on the best seller list for months and is still read today.  Vance Packard wrote about research, focus groups and subliminal advertising long before any of these techniques were in common usage.  At the time it was published, it was a revelation.  Needless to say, it was highly controversial and scared the hell out of many people who consequently felt that advertising was a “dirty” profession.

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind - by Al Reis and Jack Trout, McGraw Hill, 1980
The developed the concept of positioning, but surprisingly, their advertising agency, Trout & Reis, was never highly successful. It eventually became a consultancy.  However, they were the first to explain the concept of positioning to a skeptical industry; their thinking is still in effect today.

I am sure that some of you may have other books to add to this list.  I would love to hear from you..



  1. Really sad how today's generation of people in the biz have forgotten the grand old names of the past.

    1. I agree. Unfortunately, I am not so sure that many of the people in the business now actually have an enough interest in the business.

  2. Great list Paul. And, I agree with Bob that it's shame that so many people don't know enough history of the ad greats or agency greats who have been merged out of existence. I'd love to know if you or any of your readers have any favorite reads that were written more recently?

    1. Adam, I loved Fred Goldberg's wonderful book, "The Insanity of Advertising". It is a fun read. I also loved the Lester Wunderman memoir, "Being Direct", which puts direct advertising and marketing (now mostly CRM) into great perspective.

  3. Add "Rhetoric" by Aristotle. He said everything you need to know.

    1. Thanks, Bob. I will bet that in his day, he was really a mad man. :-).

  4. This is an excellent list, Paul; thanks for putting it together. I would, however, add an eighth recommendation to what you've chosen: The third edition of "The Art of Client Service," which, like the other recommendations on your list, has stood the test of time, with the three editions having been in print for nearly 15 years. One of the book's virtues is it includes a list of 25 books I suggest for advertising and marketing people, building on what you've proposed.

    1. Well, you are modest. I just ordered it. Looks like a great read. Thank you.

    2. Many thanks, Paul. I would have gladly sent you a copy, with compliments, had I known your interest.

      In any event, if you do read it, I'd love know what you think. If you don't, at least "The New Yorker" cartons it includes are good for a smile.

      My favorite?

      The one on page 207.

      I have looked at it at least a thousand times; it still makes me laugh

  5. Great selections Paul. Have read them all except for Mary Wells. But no top-ten list of books on advertising and the agency business would be complete without 1) “The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising and Its Creators”, by Stephen Fox (1997) and 2) “Under the Radar: Talking to Today’s Cynical Consumer”, by Kirshenbaum and Bond (1997).

    1. No reply to my reading suggestions? Why not? Certainly Fox's book deserves reading ... but only if one wants to know about advertising before YOU got into the business.

    2. Bill,

      I did not respond because I didn't think it necessary.

      I did not include the Fox book for two reasons: first, I don't know it and second, I could not find it on Amazon.

      I loved the Kirshenbaum and Bond book,But, like hundreds (literally) of advertising books, it was a great read, but was essentially a promotion for their agency; I eliminated all such books from my list.

  6. Paul ... You of all people should read Fox's book. It's "must reading" for guys like us You said you couldn't find it on Amazon, but they have it. Here are some links to get the book ... https://www.amazon.com/Mirror-Makers-American-Advertising-Creators/dp/0252066596,
    https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-mirror-makers-stephen-r-fox/1112839821. It's a long book (almost 500 pages) and it's $33.00, but I know you'll love it.

  7. It appears that it's time for an updated book on Advertising?


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

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