Chosen by Ken Auletta
Ken Auletta, The New Yorker’s senior media correspondent, is the author of Googled, Three Blind Mice, and other nonfiction best-sellers. Below, Auletta recommends six books that shaped Frenemies, his new portrait of the advertising industry in crisis.
Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy (Southbank, $20). In a story reminiscent of Matthew Weiner’s brilliant Mad Men series, Ogilvy offers an enjoyable jaunt back to a time when creatives rather than quants ruled advertising. He shares backstories to his most memorable ad campaigns, including his favorite: “At 60 Miles an Hour the Loudest Noise in This New Roll-Royce Comes From the Electric Clock.”
Madison Avenue U.S.A. by Martin Mayer (out of print). Although this 1958 book suffers from its celebratory nature, Mayer was an energetic scribe who secured access to virtually everyone who populated advertising, from lowly copywriters to account executives, all at a time when a single avenue defined the entire industry.
Where the Suckers Moon by Randall Rothenberg (Vintage, $17). A former New York Times advertising columnist takes the reader inside each stage of a campaign to sell Subaru to America. Along the way we are treated to delicious glimpses of comedy and chaos, salesmen posing as artists, and executives who truly believe they are doing good.
The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard (Ig, $17). In 1957, this powerful best-selling exposé of the ad business indicted the industry for treating consumers like 6-year-olds. Less than a decade later, a celebrated Coca-Cola commercial featured children of all colors and nationalities on a hilltop harmonizing “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” It was a great example of Packard’s thesis, providing emotional uplift but also zero information about the product.
No Logo by Naomi Klein (Picador, $20). A smart and entertaining writer, Klein works like a skilled anthropologist to dissect the mumbo jumbo of too many ad executives—self-proclaimed “brand stewards” who instead sound like characters in a Sinclair Lewis novel.
The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu (Vintage, $17). In addition to offering a vivid historical sweep of the ad business, Wu is an acute critic of advertising’s hokum and how the Attention Merchants intrude on our privacy. My only quibble with Wu is that he recommends replacing ads with subscriptions. Most Americans simply need the advertising subsidy.