Sadvertising, a new collection of short stories from Ennis Cehic, had an immediately restorative effect on me. Thumbing through the book after retrieving it from a sodden post bag, my first impression was one of happy bewilderment.
Setting aside it merits - and my second and third impressions - let's consider the improbability of its publication. Short stories aren't exactly en vogue at the moment. And then there's the extraordinarily niche subject matter.
See, Sadvertising isn't merely set against the backdrop of modern adland - it's deeply embedded in it. No surprises there given the author is a former copywriter. Write what you know and all that. But surely there's only so much to be eked out of a book about advertising. And yet here we are. Sadvertising did get made. Bravo, Vintage Books.
The very publication of this brightly-hued, artfully typeset book is proof that publishers are still willing to take a chance on literature. But its existence begs the question: has the publisher's gamble on a collection of 50 short stories about copywriters, digital nomads and open briefs paid off? Let's see.
There's no getting around the fact that Sadvertising is a book full of winks, nods and in-jokes that will be instantly recognisable to anyone who's ever filled in a time sheet. Full disclosure: This reviewer has done hundreds of them.
The book opens with "Poeticules", a two-page tale about a group of copywriters who announce to their curiously supportive colleagues that henceforth they're all poets. Towards the end, we find "Open Brief", a story about a 57-year-old employee - an endangered species in advertising - whose response to the one brief anyone in the agency can have a crack at is so utterly perfect the Creative Director promptly shreds it, paving the way for him to claim the idea as his own.
These vignettes of modern-day adland aren't without moments of humour. Anyone who's ever been involved in the giving or receiving of creative feedback will enjoy "Exhibition 1". The titular exhibition is basically a gallery full of designers working away at their computers, one being so bold as to be "DESIGNING A WEBSITE IN PHOTOSHOP". The twist? The only people allowed in are art directors - and they're not allowed to, well, art direct.
It's tempting to reach for "satire" when describing a book like Sadvertising, but it doesn't quite fit the bill. The stories that Cehic presents here are absurdist entertainments more than they are withering calls to arms. And while the stories from adland tend to read like a jeremiad about the debasement of the business, there are moments of wry observation and profundity elsewhere. Which, I suppose, is a way of saying the gamble has paid off.
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