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Must-have Books On Creative Advertising

Now that you've watched several seasons of Mad Men, you know exactly how advertising works…and how sexy it is! (Or perhaps you actually work in the industry and have a more realistic picture.) Whatever your case, there are some fantastic books on the topic worth reading. Combined, these four books offer a powerful introduction to advertising: life in the business, what makes a great ad, how to get the most out of your creative thinking, and the nature of the business itself.

Hey Whipple, Squeeze This

by Luke Sullivan

Subtitled A Guide to Creating Great Advertising, this contemporary classic (as seen in Photo 1) is a jaunty run through agency life and the art of making an ad. Luke Sullivan is a veteran copywriter, so this informal, but packed, how-to book is peppered with entertaining and enlightening anecdotes. The book presents a pretty realistic picture of what a "creative" is required to do, lots of advice on how to do it, and information about the kind of environment in which it's done. It can be read in sections, but it has narrative feel if you go cover-to-cover. Consider it the fun and witty antidote to Hollywood’s portrayals of life in the ad biz.

The Advertising Concept Book
by Pete Barry

There are a zillion books showcasing great advertisements, but that’s rarely enough to get you started making your own. This book (as seen in Photo 2) puts successful ads under the microscope for an impressively thorough study. Detailed explanations are followed with pointed exercises to get you thinking in the right direction. Essentially, it's a classroom in a book. Since the focus is on ideas (and not glamorous executions), all of the example advertisements are rendered in pencil sketches. This is enormously helpful in analyzing ads, because the conceptual, more important elements stand out clearly, so that the brilliant thinking can be better appreciated. This is the book to get when you're absolutely serious about understanding ads and creating them. 

A Technique for Producing Ideas
by James Young

If you gave up on War and Peace, then this is the book for you. It's only 48 pages and can be read in a single sitting. A pioneering copywriter's account of how great ideas are generated, this book (as seen in Photo 3) was first published in the 1940s (which might explain the suspiciously earnest title) after being presented to business school students and advertising professionals. Instead of feeling dated, though, this tome is written with more clarity and depth than most writing on advertising published today. The premise is that all great ideas emerge from a simple step-by-step method. The author presents identifiable stages that successful creative thinking goes through, which translates to virtually any discipline that requires imaginative thinking. If you are a creative person, you will find yourself agreeing with many suggestions, but will also be challenged to go further.

Ogilvy on Advertising
by David Oglivy

This is the father of modern advertising's revered classic on the business of advertising (as seen in Photo 4).  Written in 1983, some critics have dismissed the work as dated…and, in a couple ways, they're right. There are no chapters on internet advertising or guerilla marketing, for example. Even so, clear thinking and clear communication are timeless (and priceless), which is why so many people swear by this title as the best advertising book there is.  Ogilvy was at heart a businessman, so his insights are no-nonsense and results-oriented—a focus many advertisers don't have. While Hey Whipple is about practices today, Ogilvy on Advertising is about the nature of the practice itself.