Here’s a kind of off-beat thought. It all started when I picked up a huge bottle of Coast body wash at the local drug store, picking the brand because I was familiar with their bath soap, and because the bottle held more than the competing brands and was at least a buck cheaper.
When I got into the shower with it at home, I noticed that on the back of the bottle was a profile of a professional surfer. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but last I checked this nation was still the land of opportunity, so God Bless America, we’re the land of the professional surfers. The information made the back of the bottle look like a baseball card, I suppose, if professional surfers appeared on baseball-style cards. Maybe they do.1
So this made me wonder where all the endorsements from professional writers are. “Margaret Atwood for Coast body wash.” The mind boggles.
Seriously, though. Where are the endorsements by and from writers? Occasionally I see the image of Mark Twain hawking something. And in the 1980’s Stephen King and Robert Ludlum each appeared in commercials for American Express that poked gentle fun at the genres they worked in. Ludlum’s was the better of the two – King’s was loaded with puns,2, but as it turns out, that was the only one of the two I could find on the Interweb. I guess that speaks more about King’s reputation now versus Ludlum’s – whose post-mortem writing career is still going strong thanks to ghostwriters.3
I suppose the reason we don’t see more of them is because writers are fairly anonymous beings on the whole celebrity scale of things. That was the appeal behind that 80’s American Express campaign – the whole reason for the line “Do you know me? Many people don’t!” that populated these two (and other spots). In later years AmEx would also use Martin Scorsese and M. Night Shyamalan. Directors used to be relatively anonymous, but not so much any more.
And perhaps that’s the point. For a celebrity endorsement, the product people and their ad agency want someone recognizable that potential buyers could connect with. Barring that, bringing in somebody to whom customers could make a logical connection – all those basketball players for Nike shoes, insert name of NASCAR driver here for Quaker State motor oil, and by logical extension, whatzizname the professional surfer for Coast body wash, because he had to rinse off all that sand with something.
So what should writers endorse?
There are too many writers who could have endorsed bourbon, and made getting a lifetime supply a part of their compensation package. Typewriters would have been logical at one time – Isaac Asimov had three IBM Selectrics in his house, one in case the other broke down, and the third in case the second broke down. Stephenie Meyer could do Public Service Announcements for abstinance.4
What about me? What kind of products would I endorse if Madison Avenue came calling?
Well, it’d have to be something I used. The Pilot G-2 pen would be a good place to start. It’s the best selling Gel pen in America, and for good reason. You get nice, crisp lines out of it without a hint of blotchiness, it’s a wonderfully smooth writer, the ink colors are vivid, and the pen itself has a nice rubberized grip at the business end. I like the G-2 so much that when I had a custom pen made for myself, one of my specifications was that it take the G-2 refill cartridge. There’s Scrivener, a smokin’ hot piece of software for writers that recently made the jump from Mac to PC. And then there are Apple computers in general. And something to read them on: no, not the iPad. The Kindle gets my vote.
Of course, one thing about celebrity endorsements. When you bring one on board, you run the risk of having at backfire. Like Pepsi and Michael Jackson5. Or Pepsi and Madonna. Or Pepsi and… well, never mind. This is something that can also backfire at the local level, as the people at my agency are learning in the wake of the downfall of a local celeb.
Never mind the celeb backfiring on the product. What about the other way around? Did the recognition King and Ludlum got from their adverts eat into their writing time. And introvert that I am, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be disposed to kindly to the fan who shows up at my door, interrupting writing time for an autograph or wanting to know the way to San Jose or whatever. But that’s getting into different territory, and is a subject for a future post. If I dare.
- And if they do, then God Bless America!
- I was going to say “bad puns” or “corny puns” but decided that was redundant.
- Which means that featuring Ludlum in an American Express spot would end up with something truly scary, not like King’s spot, which was almost parody.
- Bram Stroker could have, too, for that matter – the Vampire/STD connection is as much a part of their tradition as coffins and holy water.
- A literal backfire.