What you can learn from Holden Caulfield

By J.D. Salinger (written in 2009)

JD_SalingerWhile sauntering aimlessly up Madison Avenue one tepid autumnal afternoon, I could not help but think of my favorite protagonist and what he might think of the advertising industry. Holden Caulfield, the thinly veiled autobiographical character I created for “Catcher in the Rye” would have made a terrific copywriter. If you want to know the truth, he also would have made a great brand marketer, and I’m not kidding. I know what I’m talking about.

While strolling amidst these phony baloney ad execs at lunchtime, you think of all the phony messages and claims brands make and have always made: “Stronger than Dirt,” “Save Money, Live Better” (the poor Simpletons that believe that…), “Open Happiness” (me and Holden never much trusted happiness)…yeah sure. What a bastion of disingenuity this advertising game is.

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s commercials. Don’t even mention them to me. The actors are phony. Holden would have written commercials that don’t rely on an actor’s talent. He would make the product and the benefit the star. He would have written honest commercials, like “We know you hate shaving, it’s a chore and time-consuming and boring. Our razor is not going to save your life, or make shaving more fun, or make you more handsome so you can have more silly girlfriends (most girls are so dumb and all)…but our razor is made right here in America and if you buy it,  you have a conscience and here’s why….” At least the company would communicate a mission and make a real emotional connection; not just an appeal to narcissism.1331226310

Holden was authentic, unlike most advertising today. It’s faked, like it’s a movie. Is there anything less authentic than this new “hidden camera” trick? However immature, Holden was true to his conscience and I know what I’m talking about.”

If you really want to hear about real creative advertising, here’s what Holden might tell you, and he’s not kidding:

  1. Be honest about your brand
  2. Be authentic
  3. Stop trying to impress everyone (know your target)
  4. Have a mission (beyond selling stuff)
  5. Communicate your mission with a humble swagger

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