What Is the Best Book Ever Written on Marketing or Media?

Here Are Ad Age's Picks; Let Us Know Yours By Commenting Below

By Published on . 95

Last week one of our reporters asked me what books she should read on media and marketing. My response: "Where the Suckers Moon," by Randy Rothenberg. His account of Wieden & Kennedy's dysfunctional relationship with Subaru is the best behind-the-scenes report on the ad business that's ever been written.*

I also suggested James Twitchell's "20 Ads That Shook The World." Some skeptical reporting would probably give the lie to a few of the case studies, but it's a decent primer, and helps explain to those who've grown up in our fragmented, consumer-controlled media world why people used to think advertising could work business miracles. Also, Daniel Pink's "A Whole New Mind," which is at least part of a blueprint for the future success of not only the marketing world but business in this country.

Now comes the asterisk: You could build a house for Dick Fuld out of all the media and marketing books I've not read. So I'm not qualified to compile the reading list. Nor does there seem to be a good one out there -- I found a few lists of the best business books, and few make mention of any decent ad texts. A recent top 30 from Soundview, the executive book summary service, included just the one, "Positioning," by Jack Trout and Al Ries, which was at No. 4.

So I thought we'd turn it over to the readers of Ad Age. What is the best book you've ever read on media and marketing? Let us know via the comments below, or e-mail Matt Kinsey, our Bookstore editor, at mkinsey@adage.com. No rules. We'd rather you didn't vote twice, or vote for yourself, but we're not going to fight over it. Nor are we going to tell you what constitutes a book on media or marketing -- that would kind of defeat the point of asking you in the first place.

We will, however, tally up and publish the results next week in an effort to create a list of the best marketing and media books of all time.

Just to get you started, here's what some of the staff of Ad Age and Creativity had to say.

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Ken Wheaton: "Madison Avenue and the Color Line," by Jason Chambers, is pretty damn fascinating. And I always think of David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest," which imagined a world in which we'd moved off calendar years to years sponsored by corporations.

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Brad Johnson: "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind," by Al Ries and Jack Trout. Published in 1980 and updated in 2000. A classic book on marketing, branding and strategy.

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Jean Halliday: "It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven by Purpose," by Roy Spence with Haley Rushing.

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Claude Brodesser: "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart." I don't know if it's the best marketing book I've ever read, but certainly one of the more interesting, and one that speaks to the vastly different sensibilities of rural vs. urban consumers that anyone in marketing ought to read.

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Matthew Creamer: "The Tipping Point," by Malcolm Gladwell.

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Jeremy Mullman: "Beer Blast," by Phillip Van Munching. Basically a history of modern American beer marketing, written by the scion of the family that imported Heineken for 50 years. Lots of great behind-the-scenes details, plus a lot of gossipy score-settling.

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Jack Neff: "Doing What Matters," by James M. Kilts. Even though he is a little full of himself, there is a basic honesty there in terms of the approach he used to turn around Gillette and some of the very fundamental principles he used throughout his career -- i.e,. brutally slashing waste, making informed bets based on solid analysis rather than doing what was popular with Wall Street, eliminating as much promotional spending as possible and spending as much on advertising as possible, and managing expectations adequately, largely by not giving earnings guidance. Also: "Lessons from a CMO," by Bradford C. Kirk. While a little dated, it's a wonderful overview of marketing as it actually exists (or did about 2003), leavened with a healthy dose of skepticism.

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Kunur Patel: "A Whole New Mind," by Daniel Pink, inspires me to doodle more. Pink outlines ways to grow creativity in simple and realistic ways -- dance lessons definitely can inform a new framework better than a tired workshop.

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Andrew Hampp: "Desperate Networks," by Bill Carter. All the juicy, behind-the-scenes dirt about the year broadcast TV was forever changed, 2004, when Fox got away with a nearly three-hour upfront presentation and NBC threw out all the bells and whistles to distract from the fact that its No. 1 slot was about to disappear with Must-See TV, all while ABC suddenly became relevant again with "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" and CBS quietly became the most-watched network in total viewers by scoring with audiences outside ad-friendly demos.

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Emily York: "The New Media Monopoly," by Ben Bagdikian.

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Nat Ives: "Liar's Poker," by Michael Lewis, about the rise of mortgage bonds, combined with his article in the December Portfolio about the ultimate, eventual meltdown that resulted. A good read and a good reminder to keep the BS detector on 11. Tangential to marketing and media, unless you think the mortgage bubble shares some traits with the dot-com bubble -- like the moment the wisdom of crowds finally leads over a cliff.

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Michael Bush: "Direct Marketing: Strategy, Planning, Execution," by Edward Nash.

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Abbey Klaassen: "Groundswell," by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. Full of really great practical examples, in a genre (marketing books) too often filled with empty bloviation, I agree with Tom O'Brien's review in which he said it was the how-to manual for the post-Cluetrain world.

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Marissa Miley: "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," by Michael Chabon. The lesson here is that it's not about the gimmicks. It's about being true to your vision, staying the course, and creating authentic, compelling stuff. That's what the story itself is about, but it's also the lesson we can derive from Michael Chabon writing and succeeding with this beautiful book.

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Jeff Beer: "Sunday Money: Speed! Lust! Madness! Death! A Hot Lap Around America with Nascar," by Jeff MacGregor. A hugely entertaining look behind the curtain of both the culture and business of Nascar.

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Normandy Madden: "99 Francs: A Novel," by Frederic Beigbeder (the English adaptation is "9.99: A Novel"). It is about an agency exec who acts outrageously because he's trying to get fired (so he'll get the generous benefits required when an employee is fired in Europe), but the more outrageous his antics become, the higher he rises in the agency. It was actually written by a former exec at Y&R, Paris, who wanted to get fired in real life. He succeeded, as too many colleagues and his client (a loosely disguised Danone) were recognizable in the novel. It's great fun and enlightening about agencies.

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