From slogans to stardom

Dog walking.

Writing radio scripts for The Beeb.

Some of our fellow creatives have recently left the ad game to do something completely different.

So in this week’s Department of Words, we look back at a selection of copywriters who went on to find fame after switching careers. 


Fay Weldon

Before becoming one of the UK’s most successful authors, Fay Weldon enjoyed a notable spell in advertising.

She was involved in Ogilvy’s famous ‘Go to work on an egg’ campaign.

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And, when working on the Smirnoff account, Weldon proposed the no-nonsense slogan ‘Vodka gets you drunker quicker’.

“It just seemed obvious,” she said later, “that people who wanted to get drunk fast needed to know this.”

Makes sense to me. But despite the line’s unarguable truth, it was rejected.


F Scott Fitzgerald

At 22, a jobless F Scott Fitzgerald was desperate to marry Zelda Sayre – a rebellious and beautiful socialite.

But she wasn’t keen on tying the knot until he could support them both financially. So Fitzgerald took a job writing ad slogans.

And he had some success. His line ‘We keep you clean in Muscatine’, written for a steam laundry company in Muscatine, Iowa, earned him a pay rise.

But Fitzgerald fell out of love with advertising pretty quickly.

“I was a failure,” he later lamented. “Mediocre at advertising work and unable to get started as a writer. Hating the city, I got roaring, weeping drunk on my last penny and went home.”

Writing novels seemed like a wiser career choice for such a melodramatic personality. So in 1920, Fitzgerald published ‘This Side of Paradise’, a novel he’d started writing in college.

It was an instant success. And Sayre, knowing she was onto a good thing, agreed to marry him.

The rest, of course, is history.


Hugh Hefner

Before launching his famous ‘lifestyle and entertainment magazine’, Hugh Hefner had a promising career as a professional writer.

In 1951 he was working as a promotions copywriter for Esquire Magazine. But when the business moved to New York, his request for a five-dollar raise was denied.

So Hefner decided to launch a publication of his own.

“I wanted to read a magazine that was a little more sophisticated and was focused on the romantic connection between the sexes from a male point of view,” he said.

And within a year he’d published the first issue of Playboy – featuring none other than Marilyn Monroe on the cover.

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But even as a publisher, Hefner continued to channel his creativity. Impressively, he held the position of Chief Creative Officer at Playboy until the ripe old age of 90.


Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie probably had the most distinguished advertising career of the lot.

During his time at Charles Barker and Ogilvy & Mather, Rushdie came up with lines like ‘That’ll do nicely’ for American Express, ‘Naughty but Nice’ for Fresh Cream Cakes, and ‘Irresistibubble’ for Aero bars.

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Apparently, the latter was inspired by a panicking, perspiring colleague who was struggling to deal with a client.

“Whatever my colleague was asked, he said he couldn’t do,” according to Rushdie.

“He said, ‘It’s impossib-ib-ib-ible’, and I thought ‘Ping!’

“While he was still on the phone sweating and stammering, I wrote down every word I could think of that ended with ‘able’ or ‘ible’ and turned it into ‘bubble’.”

As this distinguished array of former copywriters demonstrate, going from writing slogans to wallowing in stardom is a real possibility.

So will our fellow copywriters do the same?

Watch this space…