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The Happy Soul Industry Paperback – August 1, 2008
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'Fun stuff! I can't wait to see the movie. Can I write the screenplay?' --John Coveny, Co-Executive Producer/Writer, 'The Closer'
About the Author
A copywriter by trade, Steffan is perhaps best known for his provocative work on behalf of Altoids, The Curiously Strong Mints. Other highlights of his career include coauthoring the famous 'Not your father's Oldsmobile' campaign for General Motors and penning a commercial for Heinz featuring a teen-aged Matt LaBlanc. The spot won a Gold Lion at Cannes. (It also launched Joey's career, which he now appears to be un-launching.)
Now Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of one of the world's largest advertising concerns, Euro RSCG Chicago, Steffan is responsible for overall creative leadership and quality of the creative product. Prior to joining Euro RSCG, Steffan was Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer of LBWorks (a Leo Burnett company), and earlier still Executive Vice President and Executive Creative Director at Leo Burnett USA.
He is the recipient of advertising's most prestigious awards including a Kelly Award, Best of Show, and gold and silver awards at competitions such as the One Show, the Addy Awards, and the Cannes Lions Festival.
Steffan's short stories have been included in the 1994 and 1995 editions of New Voices in Poetry and Prose. His first novel, The Last Generation, was published by Inkwater Press. The story was later optioned by Touchstone Television for a TV series.
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The book in question is "The Happy Soul Industry" by Steffan Postaer. Fellow ad geeks will recognize Steffan as the current Chairman and Chief Creative Officer at Euro RSCG in Chicago, the man behind Altoids' "The Curiously Strong Mint" campaign during his tenure at Leo Burnett, and the scion of ad legend Larry Postaer from RPA. He's also commented on this blog a time or two. So, THSI comes with quite a pedigree, assuming it's about advertising.
Which it is not. At least not in the way you think.
You see, THSI is a novel. It says so right on the cover. It's a story. A narrative. A work of fiction. And while the cynics among us might argue that advertising is nothing but works of fiction, this particular work of fiction does not pretend to give nascent copywriters or designers insight into how to craft a respectable ad.
Instead, THSI is the tale of how the greatest client of all - God - decides that the only way to attract people back to the flock is to, you guessed it, advertise. Seems the Bible has become a bit long in the tooth given all the shiny accoutrements of modern life, and the Lord needs a little more sizzle to convince folks that being good is pretty great.
To execute this new marketing direction, God sends an angel, David (not that David), to Los Angeles to hire the hottest ad shop in the land. And since this is a novel, said agency does not have the name "Crispin" in it anywhere. But I digress.
The main storyline follows David as he meets with agency folks, falls for a new biz shark from a rival, NYC agency and generally mucks up the Lord's plans. Side stories involve a sleaztacular account guy and a CD with a penchant for recreational pharmacology.
All in all, it's a brisk, enjoyable read populated by some interesting characters who could pass for real people - angelic overtones excluded, of course. The advertising bits are, as you would expect, spot on. And the overall theme of marketing God, morality and goodness is a pretty nifty idea for a book, even if certain churches and whole denominations have been advertising for years.
I have only two real quibbles with the book. First, the ending. I'll try not to spoil it here. Nor will I claim that it spoils the story. But it is a bit weak. The book feels like the prose version of a screenplay. Which is not surprising given the author's own admission that his people are shopping the film rights to Hollywood people and that he's already written the script. That film-like structure isn't the problem, though. It's that at the end, the protagonist, David, is a weak hero who ultimately doesn't get himself out of the jam he's created. Maybe, as someone who's also studied screenwriting (Anyone want to buy a spec script for spiritual thriller? Call me.), I'm just more attuned to the structure of classic storytelling, but I think the ending leaves the reader wanting a bit more.
My second issue with the book is how it represents the underlying concepts of God, the universe and everything. Though based on the basic fundamentals of Christian theology - there's a God in heaven, an afterlife, angels, etc. - the book then turns those ideas on their collective head. God is a woman. God is only the god of our universe and answers to a committee (worst clients ever, I'm sure). Jesus is not who he claimed to be. Yadda yadda.
Now, I don't know what the author's personal religious beliefs are. Although I assume that if he wants the Cubs to win the World Series some day that he must have some sort of prayer life. (I'm here all week, try the veal.) And these deviations from standard dogma aren't particularly shocking. In fact, they're quite tame compared to, say, the movie "Dogma." The problem is that it's distracting and unnecessary. For people, myself included, who attempt to adhere to the tenets of the Bible, it's just, well, a little irritating. It seemed to be change for the sake of change. I wasn't particularly offended. I just didn't see the point.
In the end, I'm recommending this book. And not just because the author could get me blackballed from the industry. (Ha ha! Too late!) While I don't think it's quite as deep as perhaps the author hoped - although the user-centric blog at the official website got pretty heavy pretty quickly - it does do a good job of being fun and thought provoking at the same time.
Besides, couldn't you use a nice little aperitif before "Mad Men" returns?
Who among us, after a week of endless, pointless meetings in which the first item on the agenda was scheduling the next meeting, in which half the people showed up late and the other half didn’t show up at all, in which goalposts were moved, parentage was questioned, and logic ignored – who among us has not thought “oh if only our client were… well, what would be the ideal client? What brand? What category? What industry? What CMO?”
Would “goodness” have made it onto the first page of your list?
Yeah, me neither.
And to be clear, by “goodness” I’m not referring to Goodness, the fresh food and juice bar in Tucson, Arizona or the organic beauty line or even the handmade products pushed out of Wieden + Kennedy. I’m referring to the actual quality of goodness. Or, as the client, David Angelo, explains in Stefan Postaer’s novel “The Happy Soul Industry” (to read the rest of this review, please visit: the-agency-review.com/happy-soul)