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Then We Set His Hair on Fire: Insights and Accidents from a Hall of Fame Career in Advertising Hardcover – September 8, 2005

4.7 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

When author Phil Dusenberry began his career at the giant ad agency BBDO in 1962, advertising--and really all of marketing--was a very different industry. Products were simpler, customer segmentation and targeting less sophisticated, and even the vocabulary of sales and marketing less extensive. In the ensuing four decades, as Dusenberry rose to become Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of BBDO, the world changed. Still, the relative simplicity of a bygone era comes through in Then We Set His Hair on Fire--it's a refreshing read and a throwback to the time of David Ogilvy's classic, Confessions of an Ad Man.

Partly a memoir, partly a textbook on classic advertising campaigns, and partly one man's discourse on the complicated art of persuading people to do a simple thing--"buying more stuff"--Dusenberry's work will satisfy different audiences. Most obviously, eager business students wanting to learn the behind-the-scenes details that went into the creation of world-famous advertising campaigns will find a trove of rich anecdotes. Dusenberry describes the epiphanous moment that led to GE's two-decade slogan, "Bringing Good Things to Life." He then weaves an entertaining narrative around the clients and campaigns that defined his career: HBO ("There's no place like HBO"), Pepsi ("Generation Next"), Cingular ("Raising the Bar"), even President Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign ("Morning in America"), and others.

Dusenberry pays brief lip service to the science of advertising, describing the kind of background research that underlies great ad campaigns, but he admits a greater faith in gut instinct and the all-important insights that drove his clients' success. The alternative? Dullness and failure. According to the opinionated and colorful Dusenberry, overly careful reliance on empirical data leads to copycat advertising, which in turn produces the worst of all situations: a "parity economy" in which goods and services are relatively commoditized, without the kind of special differentiation that creates lasting businesses.

Instead, Dusenberry exhorts his readers proverbially to "move the needle" in non-trivial ways, to get "sauce on your sleeve," to "stand for something," and every once in awhile, when circumstances warrant, to make the boldest of all moves, "betting the farm." These axiomatic phrases might seem trite from another author, but somehow, Dusenberry makes them seem trenchant with his never-ending stories. In one of the newer stories, for example, he recounts how BBDO staged a pro bono campaign for New York City shortly after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, using celebrities such as Henry Kissinger, Robert DeNiro, Billy Crystal, Ben Stiller, and Barbara Walters to illustrate the power of the dreams that draw so many young people to the city, even today.

It's those powerful dreams that have become lost in so much advertising today, and which Dusenberry recalls in spades. While his playfully titled volume cannot be taken as a comprehensive, scientific manual for better advertising, it does well in reminding us of the qualities from advertising's origins that remain ever-relevant. --Peter Han

From Publishers Weekly

In Dusenberry's practical if sometimes self-congratulatory memoir-cum-handbook, he asserts, "A good idea can inspire a great commercial. But a good insight can fuel a thousand ideas, a thousand commercials." The book is as thick as Campbell's Chunky Soup with instructive anecdotes from his long and storied career as former chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO North America. With illustrations from BBDO accounts including GE, Federal Express, Gillette, HBO and Pizza Hut, Dusenberry stresses the importance of strategic insight for distinguishing your brand and cutting through the proverbial clutter. GE's tag line, "We bring good things to life," which endured from 1979 to 2003, was built on the corporate giant's pervasiveness, for example. Dusenberry addresses the challenges of branding in today's "parity economy," doing research, creating ads that actually "sell more stuff," launching a brand, distilling what it stands for as the starting point for generating insights, and building a superior creative team. Throughout, he strikes an authoritative but conversational tone as he offers behind-the-scenes observations (e.g., on the infamous Michael Jackson Pepsi commercial). Dusenberry's theses are hardly earth-shattering, but his firsthand take on some major campaigns of the past few decades make the book worth a browse for aspiring marketers. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover (September 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591840821
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591840824
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,007,303 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book really isn't about advertising (nor about arson for that matter); rather, in it Dusenberry shares much of what he experienced and learned throughout a 40-year career which culminated in his election to the Advertising Hall of Fame in 2002. As he explains, "This is a book about insights in business -- how we get them, how we recognize them, how we keep them coming....Ideas, valuable though they may be, are a dime-a-dozen in business....Insight is much rarer -- and therefore more precious...a good insight can fuel a thousand ideas....More than anything else, an insight states a truth that alters how we see the world." The allure of a powerful insight: Once you experience one, "you can't see the world in any other way." The most valuable insights are those which reveal and then guide and inform an appropriate course of action. Such insights initiate an chain reaction of ideas, some of which -- in turn -- generate other insights.

This process can occur in any human enterprise and invariably requires effective communication, cooperation, and collaboration involving several different people. However, everything begins with a need to be filled, a question to be answered, or a problem to be solved. Then extensive research must be conducted, with the results rigorously analyzed. Hopefully, what Dusenberry calls a "salient fact" will be revealed which should lead to a compelling insight. Then there must be a strategy which will "drive" the insight during implementation. In advertising, Dusenberry claims, "if you have a great insight and strategy, great ads practically write themselves." He would probably be the first to concede, however, that mass production of automobiles (e.g. Ford), creation of feature-length animation films (e.g. Disney), and splitting the atom (e.g.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, to eliminate any confusion, this is the same, word-for-word book as One Great Insight Is Worth a Thousand Good Ideas: An Advertising Hall-of-Famer Reveals the Most Powerful Secret in Business. So buy one or the other, whichever is cheaper. Now THAT's an insight you can take to the bank.

Having worked with Phil for 7 years as a client, it is refreshing to revisit his charm and wisdom. Of which he had plenty. I found the book to be mostly accurate. Two mistakes pop out: 1. The Jay Leno/Doritos theme line was Crunch (not munch, that's a Frito's term) All You Want, We'll Make More. That was penned by Tracey-Locke's top creative guy and he should have been mentioned for that insightful creativity. 2. A MAJOR creative force at BBDO, Harvey Hoffenberg, isn't mentioned once. Harvey was responsible for MANY of Pepsi's incredible TV spots in the 80s. He and Phil had a falling out and considering the sizeable ego involved, that's apparently the price of friendship lost. But it's unfair and inaccurate, as if US History had been written without mentioning Ben Franklin. There were other people suffering the same fate but Harvey's omission REALLY stands out.

And for those of you who are interested in how advertising worked (note past tense: the heydays of great advertising are GONE in the US; just turn on your set to see the ample evidence) I believe Phil gives too little credit to the myriad of people who are involved (for better, and, sometimes, worse) in that complex dance. Think of it as the ultimate "telephone game" where one person tells the next a short message with the hope of getting it to the end intact. Great advertising people enhance that message at every step.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book Then We Set His Hair on Fire; Insights and Accidents From A Hall of Fame Career in Advertising by the late Phil Dusenberry (listed on the book cover to have been former Chairman of BBDO North America) covers areas such as his take on what you have to think about when running your own business (page 79). Dusenberry gave the example of one of his friends who liked the wine and asked the owner about the wine he enjoyed. The owner looked up the wine in the Beverage Digest. Dusenberry also discusses in Chapter 11-Going Orbital his work with the late Michael Jackson and more(chapter 11 starts on page 218 which I’m guessing is how the author came up with the title of this book).
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Format: Hardcover
I was sent this book for free but I must admit that initially I didn't really feel too excited about either the author or the topic owing to my aversion to the Madison Ave advertising industry in general. When I did open it I was expecting to read about how great the advertising industry was and how Dusenberry was the cheerleader for it. Not so.

Dusenberry actually steps back a level and talks about life managing the creative and marketing strategy behind some of the world's best-known brands such as Pepsi and Dupont. This book isn't so much about advertising and marketing as it is about the "ah hah!" moment that leads to insight into a product or service that then forms the platform upon which a successful campaign is built. In other words, years of marketing effort can be driven by a fleeting moment in time and Dusenberry talks about how these fleeting moments come to be.

Dusenberry doesn't talk about Madison Avenue really nor does he pretend to be anything other than the creative filter for BBDO through which the good ideas get through. He tries to instill a sense of wonder and engagement in the reader to bring out the best and wildest ideas that might help to launch a new product or service. Although he didn't say as much, I suspect his ideas and insights are as valid for a 1-person startup company as for a 10,000-person conglomerate.

If you're a marketer or advertiser, internet or not, you'll really enjoy this book. I would also recommend it to budding entrepreneurs who are looking for some enlightenment and guidance on trusting their instincts about launching their product or service.
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