Dan Brown took Bill Bernbach’s advice

I follow a Twitter account called Advice To Writers. You’ll be stunned to discover it provides snippets and links of advice to writers.

One such snippet slips into my conscious thought almost every day: the writer’s only responsibility is to make the reader turn the page.

I find that interesting because something else I’ve thought of many times is the refrain, ‘The Da Vinci Code was such a piece of shit, but I couldn’t stop turning the page’. Many people read that enormous bestseller and felt somewhat ashamed of themselves for finding it addictive. Dan Brown fulfilled his sole responsibility with incredible skill but what he got in return was a whole load of dissatisfied customers who thought he had another responsibility to write with elegance, verve and originality.

I see both sides: you can’t get millions to rattle through your novel without being very good at writing, but managing simultaneously to disappoint so many readers is a bit of a shame (see also: 50 Shades of Grey etc, which I have yet to read). I suppose the Catch 22 is that you can’t have millions of people think you’re shit at writing unless you’re very good at it.

This comes up often in advertising through the advice of Bill Bernbach: ‘If no one notices your advertising everything else is academic’, capitalism’s equivalent of ‘If a tree falls in the wood‘. It’s impossible to argue with that, yet the people responsible for so much of today’s advertising obviously don’t really believe it, or aren’t prepared to do what it takes to create ads that really stand out.

The statistics of how many commercial messages bombard us each day versus the number we notice are stunning, and yet clients, CDs, account handlers and yes: even creatives, are prepared to add to the gallons of beige paint that cover our planet disguised as adverts.

I wonder if there’s a correlation between those who read and deride Dan Brown and those who happily create advertising that is unseen and not heard.