John Kenney: ‘Truth in Advertising’
I wanted to read the new book Truth in Advertising by John Kenney because isn’t advertising fascinating? The hundreds of messages we see every day on the subway, on TV, in magazines? I wanted to know how they get created, why they aren’t better and whether I missed my calling. I work in magazines, and naturally always wondered what advertising would be like. The book, and from the sound of it, the job, is pretty entertaining.
The protagonist, Fin Dolan, is from my hometown, Boston, and in the vein of some other books I’ve been talking about lately, came from a crummy upbringing. He strikes out on his own, creates a somewhat fulfilling career as a copywriter for an ad agency in New York, and proceeds to wonder what in the hell he’s doing with his life. A great deal of the book is devoted to his inability to take his work seriously. No wonder, since he works on a diaper account. He seriously questions why he’s doing what he’s doing, but at the same time, there’s a lot that he enjoys about his job (including, but not limited to the expensed flights, hotel rooms and fancy dinners).
This excerpt should give you a good taste of what’s inside:
“I watch part of a commercial our agency did for a drug for type 2 diabetes that has an unusually high incidence of death. …they had had a week’s worth of meetings about what shot to show when the voice-over says, ‘May cause death.’ Ultimately they decided upon a man clapping for himself at his own birthday party. I asked them why. They said they had no idea. They thought it was absurd and pointless. But they told the client they did it because it was a metaphor for the celebration of life. The client loved it.”
We can probably assume there’s a lot of Kenney coming through in the book. In an interview with comedian Andy Borowitz, he says, “There are times when it’s easy to step outside of the project at hand and say, ‘Do we really need to be this serious about the new sodium-free ketchup spot?’ That said, I liked it better than being a busboy.”
Kenney writes from experience, so we get a cool insider-y view into this world. Some of the best books give us the inside scoop on something we know very little about. Our relatable narrator Fin is ambling through life like most of us (OK, he probably ambles more than the average person), except his inevitable curve ball comes in the form of his father on his death bed. Fin and his siblings have a deep hatred for their father, and haven’t spoken to him in decades.
Getting to know Fin’s backstory is where the book got interesting for me. Actually, his family is really the backbone of the story, and without them, this would just be a book about what goes on behind the closed doors of an ad agency. But it’s about this guy Fin, who’s confused, who’s still coming to terms with the early loss of his mother, the abandonment by his now dying father and the estrangement of his siblings. This is the stuff that makes us give a crap what happens to Fin in the end, whether he gets the girl (there’s a girl, of course) and whether he stays in the ad biz.
I don’t know about you, but I do a fair amount of ambling, as well as a fair amount of aspiring, dreaming and reaching for what I want in life. This is a book for anyone who has questions about where they are, how they got there, or where they’re going. Or if you want to know how a diaper commercial gets made.
There’s also a cool book trailer you can watch here. Cause what would be a book about advertising be without an advertisement?
Gigglers: I’m not going to seek out the newest hardcovers and tell you whether or not to buy them. And while not the Sunday Review, this Sunday blog will explore my brilliant and fascinating thoughts about books. Please use the comments section to share your own thoughts on this book, or whatever you’re reading.
Image from Simon and Schuster
Top image from GoodReads