Many famous authors got their start writing copy for ad agencies, positioning products and services, and finding ways to convince consumers to try and buy. Branding and marketing has always been about storytelling. It is a compelling narrative that first links consumer and brand. The ability to spin a yarn with credibility is an admirable talent that few possess. Among now-famous-authors who got their start promoting brands are:
An Ogilvy & Mather alum who penned the Daily Mirror’s tagline, “Look into the Mirror tomorrow—you’ll like what you see.” He also produced “Naughty. But nice.” for a cream cakes company and “Irresistibubble” for Aero, which remains the candy-bar’s slogan in certain markets.
The famous children’s author and illustrator drew and wrote for brands far before ‘green eggs and ham’. Beer companies received his unique treatment and soon Ford, NBC, GE, Flit, and Standard Oil were among his clients. The “Moto-raspus” for Essolube five star motor oil is immediately recognizable as a Dr. Seuss creation as are the boys in this 1932 ad for Standard Oil.
Poor Dorothy got pigeon-holed at the Benson’s agency writing sandwich ingredient ads. This included Sailor Savouries, margarine and mustard. In 1923, she wrote to her parents: “Mustard again! It is astonishing that they should want so many advertisements for mustard. However, let’s hope that’s the end of it for a bit.” Sayers ended up creating the Mustard Club. It turned out to be one of the most popular ad campaigns of the 1920’s perhaps because of the ‘quality’ of writing. The club was described in one ad this way:
The Mustard Club (1926) has been founded under the Presidency of the Baron de Beef, of Porterhouse College, Cambridge. It is a Sporting Club, because its members are always there for the meat. It is a Political Club, because members find that a liberal use of Mustard saves labour in digestion and is conservative of health. It is a Card Club, but Members are only allowed to play for small steaks.
The club featured many fictional characters drawn from beef and condiments. It was arguably a precursor to McDonald’s marketing strategy of Mayor McCheese, Officer Big Mac and the Hamburglar.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald’s time in advertising had remarkable influence on his most famous work. He wrote slogans for streetcars and billboards for the agency Barron Collier. The latter would play a role in The Great Gatsby and its famous cover. In one interview he said, “The hit I made with a slogan I wrote for the Muscatine Steam laundry in Muscatine, Iowa—’We keep you clean in Muscatine.’ I got a raise for that.”
Later Fitzgerald would rant against advertising, “Advertising is a racket, like the movies and the brokerage business. You cannot be honest without admitting that its constructive contribution to humanity is exactly minus zero.” In one of the interesting twists in history, poet Ogden Nash took up Fitzgerald’s job at Barron Collier scripting his own ads for streetcars.
Patterson has married marketing and writing to create an impressive assembly line of work. He churns out thrillers with such frequency that many argue the quality is now in question. Patterson is not forming every word and sentence these days. Instead he enlists co-authors who do the heavy lifting and he lends his name and oversight. He is the Henry Ford of writing.
Patterson once worked at J. Walter Thompson. He started as copywriter and was the agency’s youngest creative director. He ended his tenure as CEO of JWT North America. While there he first entered pop culture by coming up with “I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us Kid.”
More Marketing-Rooted Scribes
There are plenty of other examples of marketer-turned-writer. Mary Higgins Clark co-wrote catalog copy with another soon-to-be literary legend, Joseph Heller. Others who cut their teeth writing copy, jingles and taglines include William S. Burroughs, Phillip Kerr, Steven Pressfield and Lee Child.
One of my favourite stories concerns Fay Weldon, author, essayist and playwright. Her work is largely associated
with feminism and female empowerment. In her advertising days she coined the slogan “Vodka gets you drunker quicker”. She said in a Guardian newspaper interview “It just seemed … to be obvious that people who wanted to get drunk fast, needed to know this.” Her bosses could not dispute the insight still it was overruled and never used.
Without a doubt great marketers can make great writers and vice versa. Those who tend to succeed in either or both professions know that it all comes down to the quality of the product. Charles Dickens hit this point when he said, “There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.”