Mad Memoirs: Ad Men through the pages

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Forget industry awards, the real symbol of prestige in adland is writing a book on how to succeed in a notoriously fickle trade. Sam Delaney gets the hard sell

Bill Bernbach – the founder of Doyle Dane Bernbach, the godfather of modern advertising and the original Mad Man – once said: "I warn you against believing that advertising is a science.

Rules are what the artist breaks. The memorable never emerged from a formula." And he was right, which is why the slew of would-be advertising textbooks claiming to contain the elusive magic formula for creativity are largely useless.

The next best thing? An ad memoir by someone who at least managed to find their own formula for consistent success in this strange and unpredictable industry. The first, and perhaps best known, was David Ogilvy's Confessions of An Advertising Man, which was described by Sir Alan Parker as, "The Little Red Book of Mao for my Sixties' ad generation". The latest is the ad legend John Hegarty's On Advertising, out today. The good ones don't bother you with pseudo-science but do contain a wealth of brilliant anecdotes plus the odd insight that might come in handy to the wannabe ad executive.

At the least, they can be like an episode of Mad Men – without the bits where Don goes home and argues with Betty. Here are five of the best.

'A Big Life (In Advertising)' by Mary Wells Lawrence

One woman takes on the male-dominated ad industry of the 1960s – and wins

In 1966, as the star creative of Jack Tinker and Partners, Mary Wells pitched for the role of agency president.

Seeing that its success was built largely on her talent, the agency didn't want to lose her.

The firm offered her a $1m (£610,000) deal but said that the industry wasn't ready for a woman president. She turned down the money, set up her own agency and named herself president.

Wells Rich Greene became the fastest-growing ad agency of all time. She ran it with obsessive industry ("we worked endless hours and I looked upon anyone who left the agency before eight or 9pm as a traitor") mixed with wild flamboyance ("Wells Rich Greene looked more like a rock group than a reliable business. We all had long hair, peacock clothes, amazing irreverent offices... New York humour, untrammelled optimism and we talked hip talk").

She created slogans that entered into the American lexicon: "Flick your Bic", "I Love New York" and "Plop plop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is".

'Hegarty on Advertising' by John Hegarty

Sober reflections on an unfathomable business by adland's Mr Nice Guy

In the 1980s, Bartle Bogle Hegarty was so young and hip that it was said to have hair-gel dispensers in the loos and everyone was obliged to dress in black (that was when both of those things were still synonymous with being cool). Having cut his teeth at a fledgling Saatchi & Saatchi, Hegarty's own agency was integral to the creation of the slick, yuppified Eighties' aesthetic, as typified by its work for Levi's and Audi.

Despite his starring role in adland's heyday, Hegarty was about the only member of the Soho milieu to shun cocaine and champagne high-jinx; he ran marathons and remains widely regarded as a good bloke. His memoir might not be a whirlwind of hedonistic exposés but it is a fascinating read all the same.

"We had identified that there was a growing mass-fashion look," he writes of his successful re-launch of Levi's 501s in the mid-Eighties. "I had this belief that if we went back to a time when jeans were at the heart of youth rebellion, when music was changing the world and the US was at the centre of that revolution, we could create a campaign that would be sexy, provocative and inspiring."

'Confessions Of An Advertising Man' by David Ogilvy

Prescriptive guide to the art of good advertising by the old king of Madison Avenue

David Ogilvy came to advertising late, aged 38. As he puts it: "I had gone to New York and started an ad agency. Americans thought I was crazy. What could a Scotsman know about advertising? My agency was an immediate and meteoric success."

Campaigns such as "The Man In The Hathaway Shirt" and "The Man From Schweppes Is Here" helped build Ogilvy and Mather into one of post-war America's biggest business successes. The book is forensic and detailed in its advice: setting out what typefaces work best, where coupons should appear and what size pictures should be. They were embraced as steadfast industry rules at the time.

Each of them is explained through entertaining references to his own experience: "It is a mistake to use highfalutin language when you are advertising to uneducated people. I once used the word 'obsolete' in a headline only to discover that 43 per cent of housewives had no idea what it meant. In another headline, I used the word 'ineffable' – only to discover that I didn't know what it meant myself."

'From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor' by Jerry Della Femina

Salacious exposé of New York adland in the late Sixties

Jerry Della Femina saw himself as the archetype of the freewheeling, far-out breed of Sixties' ad men.

The title of his book derives from a slogan he actually suggested for the Japanese technology firm Panasonic, which was a client on his first day at the notoriously stuffy agency, Bates.

"I know why I did these things," he says in the book. "It sets the pace. It really tells people who I am, what I feel."

His prose is manic, hilarious, gossipy and littered with tales of fighting and drug abuse in Madison Avenue's heyday.

"I once had a great kid working for me when I was at Delehanty, a great nut," Della Femina writes.

"He was on everything in the world – speed, acid, grass. It got to the point where if I had to stare into his pupils one more time I would go crazy.

"I mean, he was bad news. but he was a hell of a good writer so I kept him on."

'Up The Agency – The Funny Business Of Advertising' by Peter Mayle

Satirical reflections on adland by an agency man turned best-selling author

Before he wrote the best-selling A Year In Provence, Peter Mayle enjoyed a meteoric career as an advertising copywriter. Aged just 26, he was the head of Papert Koenig Lois in London. "I was earning twice what the prime minister got paid and owned a house on Sloane Square," he has said.

But he quit the ad game in 1975 while at his peak to pursue the good life in France. Fifteen years later he wrote this slim reflection on his time writing ads. His take on the business is often biting, occasionally cynical and relentlessly amusing. "The motivations for starting up an agency are ego and money, probably in that order," he says.

Sam Delaney is the author of 'Get Smashed: The Story of the Men who Made the Adverts that Changed Our Lives' (Sceptre)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer / Front-End Designer - City of London

£27000 - £33000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End Devel...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Junior PHP Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Guru Careers: Front End Web Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: Our client help leading creative agencies ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot