It’s Episode One, Season One, of Matt Weiner’s brilliant AMC hit, Mad Men. In a tense initial meeting with the folks who manufacture Lucky Strikes, dapper Creative Director Don Draper takes a contemplative drag on a cigarette and pronounces, “Advertising is based on one thing – happiness.”
It’s a startling revelation. With his epiphany he nails the campaign, captures the imagination of the prospective client, and wins the day for his agency. He also succeeds in perpetuating many of the popular myths about the ad game – that it's a business of manipulation, deception and greed.
As someone who has spent much of the last three decades in the business I take exception to these broad characterizations – and one in particular. Wherever I've worked, Don Draper would never have been allowed to smoke in the boardroom. The rest … well … ah… so much of it is still laughably, deliciously true.
My name is Bruce Walker. For nearly twenty-five years I was a Copywriter, Creative Director and Senior Executive with several leading national and international ad agencies. Recently, I’ve chosen to offer up my own peculiar insider’s view of the business in a newly published novel entitled, JESTERS’ DANCE.
To be sure the world of Sterling, Cooper, Draper & Pryce is over the top in its campy retro-60’s way. And Jerry Della Femina once famously declared that creating advertising in the ‘70s and ‘80s was the most fun you could have with your clothes on. But what is the current state of the business? Are we still having any fun?
In JESTERS’ DANCE, I offer a perspective from all four corners of the floor as three agencies pitch for a miraculous new weight control product that will yield hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to a client who is literally teetering on the edge of sanity. Along the way I take a few swipes at the pharmaceutical and weight loss industries, too.
The point of this exposé is not to diss the industry that has been so good to me. Nor is it to insult the many fine clients with whom I have had the pleasure of working over the years.
Neither was it my intention to blow the whistle on all the fun and games that I have enjoyed in the company of the wildly eccentric personalities and extraordinary talents that inhabit the business.
Instead, I suspect on most levels, JESTERS’ DANCE is an act of catharsis – an attempt to lay to rest a career that has shaped my character and consumed so much of my adult life.
The novel is dark. But then so is the noose and gallows that hangs so precariously over the lives of the people who create the funny little ads you see on TV or write the clever headlines that you finger past in magazines.
Advertising has always been equal parts voodoo and science. Does it really work? Or is just entertainment? In JESTERS’ DANCE, I’ll let you be the judge.
We all have horror stories from our adventures in the great world of commerce. Whatever your profession, you’ve likely had a moment where you wanted to burrow a hole into the carpet of the boardroom floor ... from failure, embarrassment, or just the magnitude and majesty of your own stupidity. I called mine JESTERS’ DANCE.
That’s what I was trying to capture. Hopefully, it’s what I’ve achieved. The world of business is an endlessly fascinating place inhabited by endlessly fascinating people. And the dogged daily pursuit of fame, fortune and success inevitably yields outrageous outcomes.
From the claustrophobic cubicles of Dilbert’s world to Ryan Bingham’s artful assassinations in Up In The Air, the art of earning a living these days yields some pretty funny shit. And that is my quiet thesis.
Despite a deep-seated envy for Mr. Weiner's four seasons of success, I believe that I, too, have succeeded in cobbling together an advertising tale that is worthy of your time and consideration… whether you’ve ever given thought to the agency business or not.
And, although I’ve never enjoyed Don Draper’s luck with the ladies, I think there are enough sexy bits and other stuff that'll curl your toes as you devour JESTERS’ DANCE on the beach this summer.
Let me know what you think. But please be gentle – it’s a debut novel. While I may have acquired the hide of an elephant during my years in the business, and I probably have interrupted your television viewing pleasure a thousand times with my untimely interruptions, this is different. This is personal.
Bruce Walker is the author of the recently released novel, Jesters’ Dance. Visit him at www.rbrucewalker.com