Literature Opinion

'Sadvertising' — Stories from the margins of creativity

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Joe Lenzo and Candy Van Dam review Ennis Ćehić's 'Sadvertising', a sharp and insightful collection of stories fashioned around consumerism and the culture of advertising.

Joe Lenzo

ALTHOUGH NOT as humorous as advertised in a "haha" sense, I did find Ennis Ćehić's Sadvertising to be, what I would call, intellectually chucklesome and stupidly funny.

After the first two stories, I tried to guess the endings and did actually succeed a few times. But on many occasions, no such luck, the writing is full of twists and turns.

Certainly, Sadvertising would have had honours of distinction in any creative writing class. If Netflix were to serialise this book it would rank with the likes of quirkier shows — Black MirrorLove Death & Robots and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

Sadvertising was full of stories of dissatisfied, conflicted and brilliant people. 'The Collaborationist' is one good example of people challenging the status quo of management and "sustainable" business entities with solutions that are self-evident. 

There are stories of people transforming themselves and their workplace, of people taking leaps of faith and finding strength. The triggers that set them off are interesting and unexpected.

I struggled at times but appreciated the book overall.

Candy Van Dam

Having spent a goodly portion of my career in advertising agency land, I looked forward to Ennis Ćehić's perspective on advertising, ad agencies and the creatives who populate this world. However, some of these "punchy" (a word from the book cover) short stories were less than satisfying. 

The book is peopled with characters who have sometimes direct and sometimes indirect connections with the advertising industry. The author jumps from continent to continent, from story to story, much like a literary Twilight Zone. Oftentimes, the reader doesn't know where the characters will take the story — usually, the end is not what the reader expected.

Sadvertising is actually a good title, as many of the personalities who populate this book are sad: the copywriter who builds a fort on his desk; the chief creative officer who went MIA; the "art directors only" art exhibition and the accountant who switches everyone's salaries. Sad.

At times, I got a glimpse of the crazy ad business from the author – a younger, fresher copywriter – and I did garner some truths from the book. Advertising is about imagination — as the art director learned when he discovered that without imagination, we are left to see the world as it really is. Sad.

The post-COVID world has changed the advertising industry with virtual meetings, ads that are measured in pixels and click-through rates (CTRs) and the lamentably less-human tone seen in so many campaigns.

I miss ad campaigns with memorable messages — campaigns that inspired and moved audiences; campaigns that created brand ambassadors. Several of the short stories chase the elusive "big idea", but just as in life (and Super Bowl ads) the big idea is difficult to catch and tame.

Ćehić's best story, in my opinion, is 'Kvasir', about the Norse god of inspiration. If only I'd known of this awe-inspiring deity sooner.

If taken as fictional snapshots of stories loosely connected to the ad business, Sadvertising is an easily consumable book, though perhaps not everyone outside of the industry will appreciate the content and commotion in these pages.

'Sadvertising' is available from Dymocks for $32.99 (paperback) RRP.

This book was reviewed by an IA Book Club member. If you would like to receive free high-quality books and have your review published on IA, subscribe to Independent Australia for your complimentary IA Book Club membership.

Joe Lenzo is a former corporate executive from the U.S.

Candy Van Dam has a background in marketing and media strategies.

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