What do Murray Walker, Kurt Vonnegut and F Scott Fitzgerald have in common? They were all advertising copywriters

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The Great Gatsby Cover, 1925. Image: Public domain

I loved to watch Formula 1 as a kid, and Murray Walker’s excitable commentary provided the perfect soundtrack.

Clive James once said, “Even in moments of tranquillity, Murray Walker sounds like a man whose trousers are on fire.”

I remember being surprised to learn that Walker had not always travelled the world with the motor racing circus, and had enjoyed a career in advertising before he picked up the microphone.

The famous slogan, “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play” was frequently attributed to him, as he worked at the ad agency Masius at the time it was created (when asked about this Walker always said that his colleagues were actually responsible, but why let facts get in the way of a good story).

Walker was part of a generation that passed through ad agencies at the beginning of their careers as a rite of passage.

Fay Weldon, who died in January at 91, was best known as a novelist, but for many years she was a highly regarded copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather.

As Salman Rushdie, who also worked at Ogilvy as a copywriter, joked, “Her great legacy to the world of literature is the slogan ‘Go to work on an egg.’ After that, she wrote novels.”

Rushdie himself coined ‘Naughty. But nice’ for Fresh Cream Cakes, ‘That’ll do nicely’ for American Express, and ‘Irresistibubble’ for Aero.

“It taught me to write like a job,” Rushdie has explained. “If you have the client coming in that afternoon for his new campaign, you can’t not have it. You have to have it. What’s more, it has to be good.”

Walker, Weldon and Rushdie are all in good company.

Joseph Heller, Martin Amis, Don DeLillo, Kurt Vonnegut and Dorothy L. Sayers all worked in advertising before they became famous for their works of literature.

Sayers was even responsible for the classic Toucan featuring ‘Guinness is Good For You’ ads that are still displayed in many pubs today.

F Scott Fitzgerald wrote slogans for streetcar ads, including the gem “We keep you clean in Muscatine” for a steam laundry in Iowa, long before he penned Tender Is The Night and The Great Gatsby, not that he enjoyed it much.

“I was a failure  –  mediocre at advertising work and unable to get started as a writer. Hating the city, I got roaring, weeping drunk on my last penny and went home.”

This entry was posted in Advertising, Brand Copywriting, Marketing on by .

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