Warning: Satire Ahead!
In a forthcoming book, former creative director Joseph Sankaco alleges that there is widespread abuse of Ritalin in the advertising industry. In his memoirs, "Prune Juiced," to be published by Adweek Books in April, Sankaco--who spent more than 30 years as creative director of Steel, Plunder, & Expence--writes that "nearly all of the big-name copywriters in the business today are juiced up on Ritalin," a drug frequently prescribed for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
An underground black market in the drug developed when teenagers found that it helped focus the mind and provided abusers with a high degree of concentration. Teens now routinely take Ritalin in an attempt to achieve higher test scores. So, alleges Sankaco, do advertising copywriters.
"Copywriters are under a lot of pressure," says Sankaco. "If they think a drug will give them an edge, they'll use it, no matter what the consequences to their health."
Sankaco recalled that alcohol was the drug of choice for copywriters in the 50s "because, well, all the big-name authors were drunks, and it carried a certain cache to have three martinis at lunch. You'd be surprised how smart and funny you get after a pint or so of gin," he says. In the 60s and 70s, creatives experimented with illegal drugs hoping to bring that "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree" voice to their ad copy.
"Yep, on Fridays we all went down to Goldberg's, sprinkled our pizza with marijuana, and expected to blind the boss with our brilliant copy that afternoon," says Sankaco. "But mostly we ate boxes of Twinkies and argued who was better--Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton.
"Some guys on the entertainment accounts tried acid, but couldn't get beyond their colored pencils or cheering when the traffic lights outside the window changed from red to green to yellow."
"Lots of them tried speed, but too often wrote tagline copy that went on for hundreds of lines--except they'd forget to turn the page, so the creative heads would get back yellow pads that looked like a Jackson Pollock painting."
"Ecstasy was the next big rage, but then the copy had so many adjectives and superlatives that it was unusable. Now it's all about Ritalin."
One copywriter at a major Midtown New York agency agreed to talk about his Ritalin use on the condition that his name not be used.
GS: "Although nothing seems conclusive at this point, some argue that Ritalin use can be dangerous..."
Juiced Copywriter: "Yeah, so is repeatedly watching 'The Apprentice.' Life is full of danger, but I need the drug to help me; uh, help me; um, help me..."
JC: "Yeah, that's it, focus. It puts me in the zone, man. I can really, uh, really; er, really."
JC: "Yeah, that's it, concentrate. Writing copy is an art and it takes a great deal of, um; what's that word? I just had it; um..."
A spokesobfuscator for the American Association of Advertising Agencies says that Sankaco's charges are "baseless" and that there is no "drug problem of any kind in the advertising industry--uh, if you don't count cocaine as a drug."
Co-workers of Sankaco's at Steel, Plunder, & Expence say that they never saw Sankaco take Ritalin or give it to anyone else, although they point out that he did win copywriting CLIOs 24 years in a row.