Google+ Consumer Psyche: Branding Books

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Branding Books

Books are in just that fortunate position through the column inches newspapers and magazines allocate to reviews. Despite this, publishers invest significant sums in marketing for books and their authors. As a rule, there is no real art to book advertising. It's more often than not a poster for the latest sex-and-shopping romcom, thriller, cookbook or celebrity autobiography. Apart from the particular look associated with each genre, the ads almost always fail to tell me very much about their subjects. Also, books can only really do well if they are any good, so word of mouth is the most effective way of advertising them.

A few years ago there was a lot of hype surrounding The Da Vinci Code. Although I had read nothing else by Dan Brown, I too felt compelled to buy it. And I read it avidly. Five years on, I could not tell you much about the plot, but I always thought that if a moment in time like that could be bottled, then publishers all over the world would buy it in crateloads and books could become real brands.

But books are not brands. Or are they? Penguin certainly believes that they could be.

Last year, Penguin signed a new author, Charles Elton. Because it was so excited about Elton, the publisher wanted to do something a little different to the usual press releases and distribution and pricing deals. Because of the nature of the book, a poster campaign would have not been the right solution. So it drafted in BBH - the ad agency behind Persil and Audi - for a project to launch Elton's novel, Mr Toppit. The agency's head of engagement planning, Jason Gonsalves - a man well known in the industry to think outside the usual confines of marketing - took on the challenge. The aim was to take a different approach from the usual run-of-the-mill press and poster ads and instead to create what he refers to as "heat" ahead of the launch.

Elton's novel is about a fictional book called The Hayseed Chronicles. If you read the Times two weeks ago then you might have spotted a full-page ad in the form of an announcement from a fake organisation called The Hayseed Foundation, which complained about the use of the family's name and other aspects of Mr Toppit. It also directed people to a website for a full statement on the matter. If you clicked on it you discovered that www.hayseedfoundation.com had "crashed", and were redirected to a website dedicated to the book.

OK, so it's not the most amazing marketing idea ever, but it created an unusual buzz around the launch of a book. Even the Independent was fooled, running a short story about the matter, believing the ad to be genuine.

BBH claims the launch has been a success, and it is early days so we don't yet know if this kind of marketing and advertising is the way for books to go, but Gonsalves is adamant that publishers should and will continue to do new things around launches. He even suggests that if the content were appropriate, we could see a clothing line or a rock tour to coincide with a first-time author's debut. 

--- Guardian

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