Like I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been doing a lot of reading for uni (and a bit for AWARD school). I’ve gone through a bunch of advertising related books, some academic, some mainstream and some creative, and figured I would just briefly catalogue them here. If you’re interested check them out in Amazon, I haven’t used affiliate links, this isn’t some bad attempt at making money.
If you’re interested in the creative side of advertising, you should have already read this book. It runs through a range of techniques for not only producing ideas, but perfecting your executions and fleshing out otherwise lifeless ads. The edition I’ve linked to is the fourth, and it includes new sections covering digital and social.
This is the ‘required reading’ for AWARD school. It is based around the idea that no amount of glossy work will improve a bad advertising idea, i.e. you can’t polish a turd. That is, great ads start with great ideas. That being said, I found it focused a little too heavily on execution for my liking. It covers the basics brilliantly, however if you already know how to write/art direct relatively proficiently, it might get a bit tiresome. That being said, the ‘Generating Strategies and Ideas’ chapter is a solid 50 pages and makes the book worth buying if for nothing else.
This book shares tried and tested advertising techniques developed by the author and other creatives from around the world. As value for money goes, I would argue that this book gives a lot of bang for it’s buck. It doesn’t go into very much detail at all, mainly because it attempts to cover so much. It is essentially a list of creative launchpads to help you come up with advertising ideas. It suggests things like: “How could the USP be depicted without words?” and “Convert the benefit into a disadvantage”. To be honest, you can find a lot of these launchpads online, but the fact they’re all together in a book, with relevant examples, makes it a good investment.
This isn’t an advertising book, it’s a book about ideas. Not advertising ideas either, earth shattering ideas like the theory of evolution and the internet. Before you cast this aside, I would have to say this is one of the most interesting and motivational books I have ever read. It is great to see Johnson unfold the illusive ‘grand idea’ into something that is almost as simple as serendipitous happenstance. Seeing how ideas like the printing press and penicillin came about gives you some scale for your advertising ideation and also takes away some of the mystery behind ‘the idea’.
Breakthrough! Proven strategies to overcome creative block and spark your imagination
Edited by Alex Cornell
I’m apprehensive to suggest this book, so if you buy it, please don’t pay full price. On the cover it says ’90 Proven Strategies’, but this is hardly what I would call them. Instead, the book seems to be filled with near-sarcastic suggestions on how to overcome creative block from an eclectic selection of creatives (who I’m not dissing, I’m sure individually they are fantastic). While there are some hidden gems, there are also some suggestions like “Hitchhike to mexico” (p.31) and simply “struggle through it” (p.141). I’m not saying that these are bad suggestions, they’re not. Personally though, I didn’t find them practical or particularly unique or insightful.
A Technique for Producing Ideas
James Webb Young
This is a pretty cool little book. It just runs through a basic method for coming up with ideas. Any kind of ideas at all. No frameworks. No launch-pads. No examples. If you’re like me, you probably already did something pretty similar, however it’s good to see it down in writing. If I was to fault this book at all I would just say it can be too easily replicated, there are many online sources that sufficiently summate Young’s ‘technique for ideas’, like this one here. Saying that, you could just support the author and buy it, it’s only $5.
Advertising (sort of)
Confessions of an Advertising Man
Confessions of an Ad Man is interesting. It’s not going to teach you that much about advertising today, but it’s a nice little snapshot into the ‘Mad Men’ era of 1960’s advertising. Ogilvy writes with utter confidence and because of this the book is endlessly quotable. Really though, this book is more likely to teach you the virtues of good business than good advertising. Still, I would say it is considered a must-read due to Ogilvy’s status in the industry.
No Logo. Taking aim at the brand bullies.
Like advertising? You won’t after reading this book. Klein looks at the detrimental affect that modern branding has had upon culture, the environment and human rights. From terrifying sweatshops abroad, to fading workers’ rights in America and a culture increasingly being swallowed by ever-present brands like Nike, Starbucks and McDonalds. At 400+ pages of (well deserved) brand-hate, it’s not for the light hearted. Saying that, it does paint an incredibly detailed and vivid picture of the dark side of the advertising behemoth, and I think well worth a read to give you some perspective. The version I’ve linked to has a revised introduction for the 10th edition, which I haven’t read.
Ad Land. A global History of Advertising.
Written by a journalist, and in a journalistic style, Ad Land runs through advertising’s history from pre-1900’s to around 2005. If you’re not aware of advertising’s rich history, it’s worth the read, especially for the sections regarding pre-1920’s advertising. While there are some interesting bits, as the analysis approaches the modern day it starts to feel like you’re reading an index of names, dates, places and agencies without any greater context. The first half is interesting and there are some gems throughout, however the second half was a struggle.
Consumption and Its Consequences
This is an academic and anthropological book that looks at the effects of consumption, namely global warming. No, Wait! Come back! While that description may seem dry, the book is excellently written and easy-to-understand. As well as this, it is incredibly balanced. Miller doesn’t write-off consumption as some by-product of the manipulated proletariat, instead he gives consumers great power in the consumption-production cycle. The book offers great insight into consumer roles, especially why people shop, and attempts to offer some semblance of a solution to the ever-growing issue of global warming, something that sooner or later, advertising is going to have to address.
A book released by the show of same name, ‘The Gruen Transfer’ is a fun and easy-to-read look at advertising in society. To be honest, if you’re familiar with advertising, there isn’t going to be that much new content, however it still makes for an interesting read.
Brands: Meaning and value in media culture
To be honest, I was very tempted to put this into the section below as ‘Brands’ often descends into explicitly academic frames of thought and jargon. Saying that however, if you can really slug through it I promise you will have a renewed understanding of what a brand really is and how it really operates. Arvidsson uses some great case studies and breaks down the book into suitable chapters.
Academic (proceed with caution)
The Advertising and Consumer Culture Reader
Edited by Joseph Turrow and Matthew McAllister
This book gives a comprehensive look at modern advertising. Some readings come from popular industry magazines and popular books like Klein’s ‘No Logo’. Others from strictly academic journals and books. Provides a great overview and context for advertising, however probably more suited to a classroom than the everyday punter.
Global Culture Industry: The mediation of things
Celia Lury and Scott Lash
Using examples of advertising, cinema, music and events, this book paints a picture of a society that has become more media-saturated that ever. Embedded in deep academic framework, you’ll probably want to give this one a miss unless you’re writing a thesis.
Brands. How do they operate? How are they conceptualised by academia? While they aren’t tangible, are they objects? These are all questions Lury presents and attempts to answer. Incredibly dense and difficult to read, however it gives you a new basis to think about a branded culture.