Almost every copywriter in any advertising agency will tell you “there’s definitely a Book inside me…” Only it seems like very few actually prise that book out. (One possible reason: there’s always, but always, a super-urgent, serious-panic, life’s No.1-priority, ad campaign to get out of the way first.)
When you think about it, there’s no better training ground than Advertising to help one write a book that should be a potential best-seller. Advertising trains us writers to first find a clear, compelling Idea around what we wish to say. Advertising teaches us never to bore our readers, to stay fresh and engaging. Advertising hones us to look for human insights; and build the characters in the story around some universal truths.
This creative urge to ‘do it my way some day’ with all the training advertising provides, is true of ad film-makers too. After honing their craft at story-telling, usually within just thirty seconds – in which they aim to establish the scenario, characters, plot, dialogue, song, a twist in the end – ad film makers long for the unbridled space of a two and half hour feature film to say a good story with all the time it demands. And we’ve seen great examples of this happening, like ad film maker Rajkumar Hirani and his Munna Bhai films. And of course there’s the sure-fire hit-film-maker-come-ad-man, R Balki, who debuted with Cheeni Kum.
Perhaps not many know that Salman Rushdie and Joseph Heller began life as copywriters. Salman Rushdie worked part time at Ogilvy to help pay bills, while writing his first novel, and is famous for his one-liner for cream-cakes: ‘Naughty. But nice.’ Joseph Heller worked on ad promos for TIME while plotting his bestseller Catch-22.
From our own crop of desi-Mad Men of the 70s, prominent personalities who’ve written books include Alyque Padamsee (A Double Life); Ram Sehgal (9 Secrets of Advertising), Ivan Arthur & Kurien Mathews (Brands Under Fire). The prolific Anita Nair (Ladies Coupe, Mistress) was once a copywriter too. More recently we’ve seen the most insightful collection of observations on life, by Santosh Desai (Mother Pious Lady), once a celebrated ad man with McCann.
In the circle of advertising copywriters that I know, Cauvery Madhavan, a copywriter from JWT probably first got us all thinking: I too will definitely write my Book one day! This was following her two instant bestsellers, Paddy Indian and The Uncoupling. Since then other friends of mine, Anuja Chauhan, Swapan Seth, Sunil Gupta (all ex-JWT copywriters) have written their witty, engaging, fast-selling books too.
And then there’s the ultimate copywriter-turned-bookwriter, James Patterson , the international best selling author. Once a junior copywriter at JWT New York, he has written an astonishing seventy-one novels in the last thirty-three years. His thrillers constantly hit the best-selling charts, and he sells more books than Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown combined. Plus, he holds the record for the New York Times highest bestselling hardcover fiction titles by a single author: a total of sixty-three. Which incidentally, is also a Guinness World Record!
Call it inspiration. Or call it by its more primeval expression: envy. Nothing like a pang of good old jealousy to make one run right off to do something about that book that’s just waiting to get out.
(Indu Balachandran , former Executive Creative Director and VP, JWT Chennai is the author of the newly released Don’t Go Away, We’ll Be Right Back: The Oops & Downs of Advertising.)