Thanks, Dorothy. I needed that.

 It attacked the way cravings always do. Suddenly and for no good reason, I needed a Sayers fix, a long cooling draught of Lord Peter Wimsey and his man Bunter.  

Luckily, the remedy was near at hand in the form of a dog-eared copy of Murder Must Advertise, circa 1933.

For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, here’s the premise:
When a copywriter at Pym’s Publicity of London tumbles down a staircase to his untimely death, Wimsey goes undercover.   Under the alias of Death Bredon, he learns to write killer headlines as he tracks down a murderer, but not before the body count has risen to five.

Dorothy Sayers has a grand time skewering the profession that once employed her. Again and again, I find myself shaking my head in amazement at how much—and how little—things have changed in the rarefied world of advertising agencies.

Of course, the glory days of copywriting—captured so wonderfully in MMA—are long gone. David Ogilvy and other giants have disappeared in a trail of glory, giving way to a world in which the medium is the message. No, actually, the change is even more radical than that. These days, the medium surpasses the message. And WHERE something is said has become far more important than WHAT is being said.  

Yet so much of the old remains. Despite the fact that three+ generations have come and gone since MMA was published, the personalities, the politics, the enmities and feuds, the ambitions and even the clients all seem strangely familiar.

In evidence, I offer this excerpt, quietly hilarious to anyone who’s ever labored in an ad agency:

“Mr. Bredon had been a week with Pym’s Publicity and had learned a number of things. He learned the average number of words that can be crammed into four inches of copy…He learned that the great aim and object of the studio artist was to crowd the copy out of the advertisement and that, conversely, the copywriter was a designing villain whose ambition was to cram the space with verbiage and leave no room for the sketch… and further, that all departments alike united in hatred of the client, who persisted in spoiling good layouts by cluttering them up with [useless details] to the detriment of his own interests and the annoyance of everybody concerned.”

As Wimsey himself might say in his supercilious way, “Plus ça change, plus la même chose.”

Comforting, really.


My clients, needless to say, are nothing like those of Pym's Publicity. Or even those who made my junior copywriter days so miserable and so memorable. (Remind me to tell you about the marketing director from a major hotel chain who showed his "distaste" for my copy by chewing and then spitting out a page of text, in my face.)

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