‘Truth in Advertising’ by John Kenney – Humor at the Office

‘Truth in Advertising’ by John Kenney   (2013) – 306 pages


Truth_In_Advertsing‘Truth in Advertising’ won this year’s James Thurber prize for American humor.  It is a devastatingly sharp satire on corporate life, particularly the advertising world.

 “There are two kinds of creative people in advertising.  Those who think they are smarter than the client and those who are successful.”

 Our hero, Finbar Dolan, works on the diaper account for a large ad agency in New York.  The joke here is that all these high level executives, creative directors, and creative writers go about their job of making diaper advertisements for TV with the utmost seriousness.  Their ultimate challenge is to make a diaper commercial to be aired during the Super Bowl.

  “Then there’s the rest of us. Me and my coworkers. We do diapers. We do little chocolate candies. We do detergent and dishwashing liquid and air fresheners and toilet paper and paper towels and prescription drugs. Our commercials have cartoon animals or talking germs. It’s the stuff you see and think, Blessed Mother of God, what idiot did that? That idiot would be me. I make the commercials wherein you turn the sound down or run to the toilet.”

 John Kenney writes humor pieces for the New Yorker.  This is his first novel and he does capture the ridiculousness of office life with a mocking vengeance.  I know, I’ve been there.

Finbar quotes one of his bosses on advertising:

 “It’s my religion, it’s my personal Jesus.  And it is also incredibly profitable.  Can I refresh your drink?”

 Actually there are two stories in ‘Truth in Advertising’.  One is this uproarious story about office life at the ad agency, but also there is the poignant personal and family story involving the death of Finbar’s estranged father.  The tone of these two stories is so totally different that they don’t fit together so well.  While the tone of the ad agency story is super wise guy and cynical, the tone of the family story winds up being somewhat sentimental.   The comedy shines; the melodrama is somewhat sappy.

But the parallel stories do hold together due to the voice of Finbar Dolan, the main character. Finbar’s quest for meaning takes him far afield from the advertising world.  ‘Truth in Advertising’ has the familiar theme that perhaps the best way to having a good life is not living larger but instead living better.

The bottom line on ‘Truth in Advertising’ is that it captures the wild-ass comedy of the advertising world, not so much the family drama.

 “Cynicism is very dangerous in advertising.  You must be a believer.  If you stray, if you start questioning its worth and validity, its credibility, you are in for a very long day.”

 Read ‘Truth in Advertising’ for its insights into advertising and office life.



2 responses to this post.

  1. I like the sound of this, well the office side of it anyway!



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