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Inventing Desire

INVENTING DESIRE: Inside Chiat/Day; The Hottest Shop, the Coolest Players, the Big Business of Advertising

“Karen Stabiner has a dead eye, an unerring ear, and perfect pitch for folly and pretension. These are priceless assets in capturing a business where disaster is only a phone call away, and nailbiting is a form of nourishment.” – John Gregory Dunne

“In a time when competing products are so similar that only the advertising is of much interest, Karen Stabiner has focused on exactly the right subject. She has turned a chaotic year inside Chiat/Day into a disciplined and gripping intellectual thriller.” – Jesse Kornbluth

Inventing Desire book coverFROM THE BOOK JACKET

Advertising is everywhere: the average American consumer sees 3,000 commercial messages each day. But the world behind this $125 billion a year effort has been almost invisible – until now. From inside the ad industry’s reigning creative “hot shop,” Karen Stabiner reveals the big business of seduction, its people, its culture, and the high-stakes process of making ads.

In a field where hunch and instinct mean as much as strategy and research, Chiat/Day has, for a quarter of a century, produced ads that take the consumer by surprise and cross over into mainstream news.  They are startling (the futuristic “1984” commercial for Apple Computer); they’re clever (the Energizer Bunny); they’re outrageous (a bungee jumper falls out of his shoes because he isn’t wearing Reeboks).

Chiat/Day has had a turbulent history, riddled with client defections and high-profile failures, but along the way they’ve elevated advertising from “ring around the collar” repetitiveness to miniatures of pop culture.  Generations of advertising agencies – Leo Burnett, Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam, Doyle Dane Bernbach – had tutored the consumer in brand loyalty.  Chiat/Day, the patriarch of a new, rebellious generation, taught the consumer about desire.

Founder Jay Chiat wanted 1990 to mark the beginning of a new era at Chiat/Day-its emergence as a full-service marketing firm, to be run  by men who shared his vision.  He intended to oversee the agency’s expansion into an international presence-but his ambition precipitated power struggles, and the recession hobbled his dream.  For an agency where “Good enough is not good enough” was a way of life, not just a tag line on a T-shirt, where the creatives had traditionally ruled the guardians of the bottom line, growth was not an easy, evolutionary process.

Karen Stabiner spent a year at the Venice, California, headquarters of Chiat/Day-with total access.  She sat in on client meetings, agency board meetings, pitches, and a variety of shouting matches.  She saw a man dance on the ceiling to sell an Energizer battery and learned that crashing two customized $32,000 Nissan sports cars is all in a day’s work.

Inventing Desire delivers an exciting, masterfully reported account of corporate adventure, of hard-won successes and stunning losses, of a maverick agency trying to keep its edge.  And it tells of a powerful, emotional story behind the operation – of a man whose relationship to his work defined him, who had to decide whether he preferred to be immortal or irreplaceable.