10 non-advertising books to read if you wish to work in advertising
We’ve all seen the Mad Men episode where Mr. Cooper suggests to Don Draper to read Atlas Shrugged (Season 1 Episode 8, The Hobo Code). Later in the season, Don appears to have been influenced by the book’s philosophies, saying, “If you don’t appreciate my hard work, then I will take it away and we’ll see how you do.”
But Atlas Shrugged is not the only book featured in Mad Men. Inferno by Dante Alighieri is also seen on Don’s hands while he is on the beach, Mark Twain is regular and many more.
The reality is that if you want to work in Advertising you must read. A lot. Literature is the best place to find insights about human nature.
Advertising is all about finding the right insight and generating the correct ideas to leverage this small point of advantage in your favor. We need tools to help us find insights, put them in perspective, and rationalize them in order to get better at our job. So here are 10 books that can help you in your journey to becoming a Mad Man (or Woman).
- The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff
Even though the book is based on Americans, trust me it applies all over the world. Disbelief, identity politics, political correctness, inability to listen to different opinions, are all feelings that we encounter daily on social media. Understanding why these feelings have taken control of modern society is very important if we want to leverage social and digital media on campaigns. Challenging our own beliefs is even more important and this book certainly makes you do that.
- Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
There is the rational and the intuitive part of our brains. There are impulsive decisions and fully rationalized. In advertising, you need to apply to both. In order to do so, you have to understand how the mind works. When the emotional, intuitive fast system 1 takes over and when the slow rational system 2 does. The starting point to understand behavioral economics.
- The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction by Nate Silver
Data, analytics, math have taken over a huge part of an advertiser's reality. This book is there to help you make better predictions and get a better grasp of probabilities. The Fox vs Hedgehog paradigm in the first chapter is the most important take you should get from the book. Learn to read the data in order to make predictions and not to use them to try and verify your intuition.
- Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Taleb, just like Silver likes predictions. His point of view, totally different from Silvers. will give you a different perspective on understanding and reading data and most of all on how people perceive and react to external conditions. The main idea behind the book is that if you have self-interest or “something to lose” you react differently.
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
The biggest insight into human behavior is our history as a species. Where we started, what defined us (hint: The Cognitive Revolution), and what makes go forward (hint: Our ability to adapt). Go beyond history as taught in school and looking at our species as a whole gives you a new perspective.
- Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley by Antonio Garcia Martinez
The book is about Facebook culture and the way tech entrepreneurs disrupt companies and businesses. But its actually full of hidden gems. The author was part of the team that developed Mobile Ads. If you wish to get a pure understanding of the insights behind how ads and targeting work this is your blueprint. If you wish to understand why silicon valley disrupts and how they understand and control needs this is your chance.
- Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall
A book about crazy ideas and how to help groups not to reject crazy ideas. An advertising creative’s dream. OK granted the science of phase transitions and all that might seem a little too geeky but trust me. You’ll definitely take advantage of the methods on your next brainstorm with your team.
- Feck Perfuction: Dangerous Ideas on the Business of Life by James Victore
“Creativity is dangerous. Not creativity as decoration — the perfect mauve wallpaper to match the couch — but creativity as inventing and pioneering. It’s University of Oregon’s running coach Bill Bowerman ruining his wife’s waffle maker to create “waffle” shoes for his athletes. This was the beginning of Nike.” I think this excerpt explains why you should read it. Fast.
- Digital Darwinism: Survival of the Fittest in the Age of Business Disruption by Tom Goodwin
An exploration of how technology is reshaping society, ideas, work, culture, everything. Yes it reshaped advertising as well. And it will keep disrupting everything.
- Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
Remember that anchor you kept listening at that UX meeting about the subscription page of that publication? Yeap you guessed it. Its behavioral economics. Dan Ariely will walk you through them and explain why you overpaid for aspirin in the process. Use the insights from this book with caution.
Reading these books will definitely help you navigate everyday life in the ad land. You’ll gain a better understanding of concepts and ideas that shape our life and this will help you have better ideas. After all our work is all about observing and understanding. Observ human behavior, understand what makes someone tick, and frame the problem in a communication platform. Simple but yet so difficult.