Author Tony Vanderwarker explains “How To Write a Novel About Advertising.”
How do you write an interesting novel about a superficial, silly business filled with shallow, greedy, backstabbing characters, without the book taking on those very characteristics?
Don’t get me wrong. The ad biz was very, very good to me. I made lots of money and had some great times. But it was insane. Because it attracted a lot of crazy artist types and then set them on a collision course with hard-bitten business people. So you had the intersection of commerce and art both with different goals and standards. One determined to make money, the other to entertain and entice. Inevitably, conflict occurred between the two with clients saying, “That ad won’t sell.” And creative people arguing back, “Yes, it will, it’s terrific, people will love it.”
Standoffs result and that’s where the “suits” come in to referee. Suits are account people who browbeat the creatives to modify their ads then softsoap the clients to get them to buy the “fixed” ads. It’s advertising’s version of sausage-making, a messy process with noses out of joint, patched together ads and time and money wasted.
After retiring from advertising and spending six years writing with three unpublished novels wasting away on the far reaches of my hard drive, I decided to take on advertising.
But how to capture this chaos in a novel? Mad Men did it by going back to a Fifties perspective when men were men, women were women and everyone kept their clothes on until drinks were served.
I didn’t want to warm up another Mad Men, nor did I want to rehash my own experiences, as crazy/funny as some of them were. I broke my pick on it many times until I finally found the sweet spot.
I have the ultimate client, God, come down to earth and select a broken-down ad guy on the last legs of his career to come up with a campaign to strengthen God’s market share.
Dinny Rein, a Chicago creative director barely holding on to two lousy accounts, is in the crosshairs of the top creative director and the president of the agency.
He keeps getting crank calls on his cell from some guy who’s looking for someone to do an ad campaign. Rein writes him off as a nut until $10,000,000 shows up in the agency’s new business account and Rein wakes up one day with a complete physical makeover that finally convinces him that his new client is God.
God needs an campaign to increase his lagging church attendance, as God explains, “My comparables—been down four quarters in a row. I’ve been up nice each year for the past ten, but damn Mohammed’s been off the charts, double digits with practically no marketing.”
Dinny goes to work on a campaign but soon collides with agency politics as Ester, his boss, and Steve Sinkle, the president, want to put their stamp on the huge new account and edge Dinny out.
He does a knockout campaign of feel-good commercials which God loves, saying to Dinny, “I tell you, the way you captured my magnificence and grace, the majesty of my works—takes me back to the old days when people used to lie on their backs on scaffolds painting pictures of me on the ceiling.”
But Sinkle and Ester are conspiring behind the scenes to do a competitive campaign based on promotions, coupons and giveaways to get people into church.
Forced by Sinkle to have his client appear as a person, Dinny chooses the Polish building superintendent Woogie Strepijichowski. Sinkle and Ester do a full-court press on Woogie to promote their campaign and Woogie succumbs to their blandishments.
Dinny is beginning to realize that Woogie is the client from hell, snagging wire transfers out of the air and stealing money from drug lords to finance the advertising, as well as playing agency politics, Dinny watches as his rivals swing God around to their campaign and get it into a test market.
When the promotional campaign packs the churches, Dinny realizes he’s been aced out. Sinkle, Ester and Woogie turn on Dinny and fire him.
He’s disconsolately strolling around Chicago when he sees Sinkle and his cohorts, including Ester, being paraded out of their building by the FBI in handcuffs. Turns out they’ve been evading taxes big-time.
Dinny’s elated but he’s still without a job until he gets a call from another mystery caller. Turns out its Buddha and guess what? He wants to talk with Dinny about doing an ad campaign.
Thanks, Tony, for sharing with my readers about how you came to write ADs For GOD. Your other books can be found on your website, http://tonyvanderwarker.com/, and are available on Amazon as well.