Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
I recently saw two marketing ideas that generated a lot of online noise. They did so because they crossed an invisible line–the line that causes potential customers to be repelled.
Both marketing ploys were contests.
The first one drew such negative publicity that the contest was canceled. Publisher Hachette’s Australian division ran a “tatvertising” campaign for the release of Stieg Larsson’s book, The Girl in the Spider Web. The plan was to select an individual who would have a large image of a dragon tattooed to cover his or her entire back. The “tat” would be used in the advertising campaign. You can read the details here.
But other media panned the idea, as did enough individuals that the publisher decided the campaign was being viewed as “tacky” or worse, as taking advantage of the “winner.” So the tattoo portion of the campaign disappeared, even though the publisher stated the contest had generated a lot of interest from potential tattoo-ees.
The second contest involves the name you bequeath on your baby. BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, which has 169 restaurants around the country, is offering one lucky couple a $10,000 gift certificate to BJ’s if they are the first to name their baby Quinoa.
“We are so excited to introduce these amazing new Quinoa Bowls that we wanted to do something big, maybe even a little crazy,” Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Maye said in a statement.
Yeah, “crazy” would be the operative word. The contest’s rules specify that Quinoa must be the child’s first name and that a birth certificate must be shown before the gift certificate is bestowed. And if you aren’t the first to do so, well, you’ve just done your child no favors, as that cute little one moves through life as Quinoa.
The writer of The Huffington Post article says, “Personally, we think any sap desperate enough to name their child Quinoa just for a gift card should be rewarded/punished with an endless supply of BJ’s.”
In my online search for articles about the Quinoa contest, I found some favorable to the idea, some neutral, and others, like The Huffington Post, unhesitatingly against.
These two instances are extreme examples of marketing. They beg the questions: What makes marketing effective? What pushes it over the top?
To counterbalance those marketing kerfuffles, in the last month, two of my clients were each asked by their publisher to participate in a specific marketing idea. Both clients said no. One was being asked to do something outside her comfort zone; the other was being asked to step outside his convenience zone–the time of the event required him to rise really early.
Both decisions had a chilling effect on the marketing/publicity team. It’s hard work to find significant marketing opportunities. Hearing “No thanks” rather than “Thank you!” tends to discourage marketing folks. (By the way, one client decided to move beyond her comfort zone and let her publisher know she would eagerly participate after all.)
Authors regularly face the question, Is this important enough for me to do regardless of my hesitancy? (Not that most of them realize that is the question they should be asking.) Fortunately, few authors are faced with whether to have their book campaign include tatvertising.
What do you think Hachette and BJ’s goals were in their contests?
Do you think they succeeded?
What makes a marketing idea distasteful or brilliant?
How do you decide whether to pursue a marketing idea that either you came up or that your publisher suggested?
Two marketing campaigns that crossed the line between savvy and tacky. Click to tweet.
What makes a marketing idea distasteful or brilliant? Click to tweet.
Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
There’s a Pinterest/Facebook phenomenon called My Imaginary Well Dressed Toddler. The creator started it to spoof pretentious people and their mini-hipster, fashionista children. Now it’s a book. The star is named Quinoa (that’s pronounced “Keen-wah”, people…not Kw-i-noah) and it is hilarious. Needless to say, the creator, Tiffany Beveridge, is riding the wave.
BTW, Quinoa’s friends are named, and this is Pinterest, these are not real people, Celiac, Hashtag, Chevron, Boursin, Salinger and Gazpacho.
By using her pop culture savvy, Beveridge is taking Quinoa to the top. A book deal for goofing around and slyly poking at modern obsessions with having it all? And the best thing about marketing the book? The marketing giant for Quinoa’s book is Pinterest!! Hello free, world wide advertising!
Brilliant marketing is something like the “share a Coke with a friend”. Who doesn’t want their name on something?? I’ve got a bottle of Coke, which sports the name of a certain agent, stashed in my writing cabinet. It also has a nice be-ribboned tag with “do not open until we get a book deal”.
The fine print may say “touch this and suffer the wrath of your mother”.
Or Ikea’s famous “start the car” ad. few words, but lots of action and tension.
Distasteful marketing? Malaysian Airlines briefly held an ad campaign called “My Ultimate Bucket List” AFTER two planes went down.
Since I write about Native Americans, I’m hoping no one suggests I wear a war bonnet.
Beveridge (who has a name to go along with her characters’) is smartly riding the wave. Knowing how to stay upright on such a big wave is challenging; so I wish her the best.
Malaysian Airlines has foot-in-mouth disease.
There’s something a little bit sad in both of the examples. The comment by Mr. Maye, of BJ’s, is telling…”we wanted to do something…a little crazy…”
*When did crazy become chic, and when did that kind of pathetic grab for attention become a viable marketing tool?
If I may add a postscript (the hamster ran out of energy, and had to call in the gerbil to sub for him).
* The problem I have with these campaigns (and many others) is that they reflect an excess of leisure and luxury…that we’ve gone so far down the Roman road to debauchery that nothing is really off-limits any more. There are still parts of this word in which a child’s survival is not guaranteed, and a name is a brave and honourable reach into a future of hope, and not a contest entry. And among older Polynesians, tattoos are still a mark of courage. I wonder what these people, who with their faithfulness to traditional values I suspect are indeed our betters, think of us?
* We have been given much, in this land – space and resources and a beginning that, though flawed in many ways, was carried on the broad wings of optimism. And now, we are WASTING it.
As I thought about both of these campaigns, I wonder if they strike us as distasteful because, to win a silly contest, a permanent change is made. A back if forever altered; a child is forever marked as being a convenient way to win free meals.
The Hatchette promo wouldn’t appeal to me … but neither do those books. Quinoa? No, but then I wouldn’t call my child Apple or Poppy or Peaches or any of those other foodie names I’ve seen bestowed on the children of celebs.
And then there was the #askeljames chat on Twitter … I wonder if the PR person who thought up that idea still has a job. Unless bringing out the haters was the objective.
And this post has just popped up in my reader, further suggesting the tattoo idea isn’t as far-fetched as I might have thought:
Iola, I’m not into tats, but some of those you linked to were gorgeous. And if you’re a major Stieg Larsson fan, you would be fine with having your back inked with a dragon. I believe what the naysayers were objecting to was that the person’s back was going to become part of an ad campaign. It’s like being selected to have your body modified so you can be a model to promote an item, but you don’t get paid for your work.
Amazing…and creative…some of the artwork is delightful…I think I’d just rather have a poster or a bookmark! Thanks so much, Iola, for sharing this very interesting post!!
The #askeljames Twitter campaign was created by people who might not love the books but do love how much profit the publisher has made with it. All the publicity folks needed to do was look at Amazon reviews to know that giving the general public an opportunity to tell the author what they thought meant…that they would.
We don’t watch TV, so I don’t see a lot of ads. But when I do, I’m surprised how many leave me wondering what product they support. It seems that the goal is to be increasingly clever (or crazy), not to market the product. I would get up early for a marketing moment that was tasteful, encouraging and had a logical connection to my book. But if I can’t envision doing it with Christ at my side, I’ll have to pass.
Jennifer J Cvelbar
I’m an introvert but I understand that there are things connected with the writing life that will take me out of my comfort zone. If I’m serious about wanting to get people to buy/read my books then stepping out of that zone is a fact of life. I would however draw the line at stepping out of my ‘Christ-zone’ i.e. something that would put Him in a bad light.
When I worked in the marketing department at a major tourist attraction, we would have lunch the day after the Super Bowl and critique the ads. It was astonishing how often the most popular ads really weren’t all that effective. As Shirlee mentioned, if you don’t know what product you’re supposed to go out and buy, it doesn’t matter how cute/funny/memorable the ad was. If nothing else, the two examples you gave are strongly associated with the product. And the result? Greater name recognition. In the marketing world that’s called success.
I think both contests are in poor taste, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective. The important thing is to figure out what your end goal is. If it’s just getting your name out there quickly, then crazy/weird/wild could be the way to go. If it’s carefully building a brand that you can take pride in with no regrets for decades to come, you may want to try a more moderate approach. I’m grateful that as Christians we’re definitely taking the long view 😉
“With no regrets for decades to come” … amen, Sarah.
Hilaire Belloc wrote some doggerel about ‘brand’ –
“When I am dead
let it be said,
“Her sins were scarlet
but her books were read!”
Maybe this “flaunt one’s moral failings” approach ensures brand recognition, but to me it’s black flag. There is something about publicly flaunting convention…but I guess that, being Asian, I don’t understand. My instinct is that the nail that stands out will be hammered down
* For myself, I have been careful in building brand; perhaps too careful, because I may be running out of time to make use of it.
* I don’t hold with giving eulogies, but if mine will be spoken I would prefer that the phrase “he sold out his principles to make a buck” would not be among those that could be said.
” Not to say that Belloc didn’t have some cool things to say…
“Every major question in history is a religious question. It has more effect in molding life than nationalism or a common language.”
Oh great. I’ve just given Belloc a “Bruce Jenner”. That only goes to show that, to paraphrase Jimmy Buffett, it’s Monday morning somewhere.
I don’t have the mindset to get into the head of even an eighth of what goes on in the world today. I’ve heard that America is no longer considered a Christian nation … so that may explain things here. A high school classmate posted a picture on Facebook recently of her in a Texas small city … and in this city’s downtown square, they have a public glass restroom. My high school classmate used this restroom … anyone walking by could see her, as she was surrounded by nothing but glass. Someone told me that there was another public glass restroom in New York. As my jaw drops, I ask, “Why?” Did they think it would attract people to their city? That seems very distasteful to me, and I’ll not be stopping there if I can help it. But I may be in the minority now.
It’s actually one-way glass, but it would still make me feel very, very uncomfortable.
* Not to mention that I’d have serious questions about a city that made a public restroom an “art project” (which this one is, modeled after a 2004 architectural work by some EuroDude) at a substantially higher cost than conventional construction would have demanded. Make sure no one’s dying of hunger, and no one’s forced to live on the streets. Then the government can build all the all-glass restrooms it wants.
* Oh, wait, we already get to see elected officials “doing their business” in Washington.
Andrew, I’m so glad you told me that. She didn’t mention that on the post. I thought the worst. And while she was in the restroom, she took a picture of her boyfriend sitting outside waiting for her. 🙂 And I’m giggling a bit here because I’m so silly, but also because her boyfriend was looking away. He couldn’t see her. Aha! I still ask, “Why?” 🙂
I hadn’t heard about either of these marketing ploys. I guess what I take issue with in each case is the permanence of the impact on the “winner” of the contest so that the entity hosting the competition can gain temporary goals on their end. A tattoo and a baby’s name are hard to change. And while it may be nice to have the kudos that come from winning such contests in the short term, the long-term affects on the “winners” will be lasting, and not necessarily in a good way. I think that’s what I take issue with.
I think part of what makes a marketing idea distasteful is when it takes advantage of someone/a group of people with long-lasting effect (or is it affect?) that goes well beyond the period of time a certain product is being marketed.
Marketing is not my strength. So as for knowing if a marketing idea is a good one or not, I would talk with friends who are further along than I am on this journey, and when I get an agent, I would talk with that person as well before pursuing a marketing plan.
Jeanne, you and I are thinking along the same lines. These contests USE the winners for short-term gain, but the winners live with those choices for a very long time. It’s devaluing and dehumanizing.
And while, as Sarah Thomas said, the campaigns bring attention to the product the marketers want to promote. So, in that sense, they’re successful.
But I would hesitate to go to a restaurant that used such a ploy. Larsson’s books never were for me. And, come to think of it, BJ’s isn’t my kind of place either. So I’m obviously not the target audience.
That makes two of us, Janet.
When we see a particularly awful commercial my husband and I will look at each other and say, “Clearly, we’re not the target audience.” And boy howdy, it would seem there’s little targeted at us these days!
So true, Sarah. Sometimes I think all the TV commercials are for fast food, alcohol, cars, and medication. I am not the target audience for any of the above.
Janet – Early rising isn’t a problem for me, but each person has his limits. I’ve gotten up early for a radio interview and will do it again. It costs me so little. But the comments this morning draw a line in the sand: would Jesus step across a specific publicity line with me? The Hachette and BJ’s promotional ideas you discuss here seem flash-in-the-pan outlandish with little thought for the future. Another reason for a good author-agent-publisher relationship.
Davalynn, I think the point we should all take from these marketing concepts is that a lot of in-house people approved of them. If you were an author whose publisher wanted to do a daring, noteworthy and audacious campaign for your book, would you be able to see through the enthusiasm to the flaw? It might not be as obvious as these two examples.
Indeed, Janet. Prayerfully sought wisdom is definitely needed. From where I stand right now, all I can see as daring promo campaigns for one of my works in progress would be getting on a bucking horse or running in front of a bull. I’m thinking ‘no’ on both counts!
Davalynn, in the spirit of the crazy ads we’re discussing today, maybe you could have a couple of contests in which the winners get to ride the horse and run in front of the bull!
I think Hachette and BJ’s definitely intended to get publicity by their outrageousness and it sounds like they succeeded. I’m somewhat surprised my son doesn’t go to school with a girl named Quinoa based on where I live. There’s a taco place I believe that gives you a free taco if you have their name tattooed on you in a visible place. I guess it depends how hungry you are… and return on investment. A $50 tattoo means at least 20 tacos before you break even…more if they have Taco Tuesdays. But is it distasteful? I don’t know. Someone would probably love doing either of these things and happy with the prize. Maybe imprudent would be the word I would use.
I am not a fan of marketing for shock value… just to get attention so anything that does that fails to get my sale. However, brilliance is harder for me. I’m tired of seeing everyone say buy my book on Facebook and Twitter. But I don’t know if there’s a better way. I’d love to brainstorm marketing ideas. That would be interesting. Sorry long answer… short one: I got nothing.
As a writer, I would get up early and even (depending on the request) work outside my comfort zone after prayerfully considering it. It’s hard enough to get noticed by an agent or publisher. Saying No without consideration feels a little irresponsible.
Nick, I suppose you’re right about the ROI with the taco tat. But it’s hard to think about being reduced to using your body as a billboard for a taco place. And, sadly, some people would do it because they don’t value themselves. It’s a different matter if you’re hungry.
An author marketing himself on FB and Twitter is minor league stuff compared to the two publicity campaigns we’re talking about. And that means two different mindsets and budgets. Authors need to build relationships with their readers, and that means having a long-term perspective, which results in not realizing hawking your books online has little effect. Unless you do it only periodically. It’s a subtle publicity campaign.
That kind of advertising is so ridiculous as to be soul-crushing. Hunger Games, anyone?
“Soul-crushing” is the perfect descriptor, Hannah.
Great article, Janet. The tatvertising campaign seems a bit wacky. But it is kind of fun to think about how a tattoo could be used to promote some romance novels…wedding bells, lips, hearts, swooning eyes? What about my friend’s cozy mystery..a crazy quilt just sounds painful!
Naming a child is a sacred act and should be viewed seriously…however, I’ve
heard wonderful stories of how a name was chosen. In our pioneer families my husband and I have relatives named for states passed through Nevada…(pronounced by them as Neh-vay-dah…nicknamed Veda (Vay-dah), rivers crossed, Malheur (on the Oregon Trail) or mountain ranges conquered, Warner. Also, relatives named for jewels, Opal, Pearl, Amber and Crystal. Flower names, Violet, Rose and Daisy and seasons…Summer, Spring and Autumn. Those named for concepts, Hope, Faith and Liberty. How about some made up names…Vella or Lewisid?
So, I guess if someone wants to name their baby Quinoa that’s fine. I’m questioning how they’ll spend a $10,000 restaurant gift certificate? (How many years is it good for? Can they gift a few meals here and there? Could they save it for the child’s wedding reception?)
Thanks for the fun post! Glad to know what’s going on in the quirky marketing world!!
I really did put in paragraphs and spaces…I don’t know what happened???
Kathryn, see the link Iola provided for book tats. That’ll spark some creativity!
I agree that parents name children for all sorts of reasons, some make sense; others are puzzling. I recall parents in Australia, I believe, who wanted to name their child a number (3?), but the government said they couldn’t.
Thanks, Janet for reminding me of the link Iola posted…intriguing…and definitely creative…but, like I mentioned, I’d rather have a poster or a bookmark!! LOL
Interesting post, Janet. I guess I’m coming at this as a reader, and unique marketing contests do little to interest me. It doesn’t matter if someone is giving away a Kindle Fire or a bag filled with goodies or a weekend away at a B&B, all of which I’ve seen more than once in the Christian market. So many people will enter for the Fire that the odds of winning are really low. The bag of goodies–stationary, tea, etc.–are all things I don’t use and things which would clutter up my house. No thank you. And the B&B is probably too far away for me to go to or would require extra expense in getting too, which we didn’t have at the moment. So…
What gets my attention is the good review. Rel Mollet or Jamie Lapeyrolerie recommending it on their blogs. Friends with similar tastes raving about a book. That’s all. Personally I feel all these giveaways and contests are a waste of a publisher’s and an author’s resources.
I realize that might just be me, and I’d love to hear how many agree or disagree with my view.
Sally, I’m not much of a contest enterer either. But I think many people like to win and like free stuff. And depending on what the contest is, some of them are fun to participate in, such as send in a pic of you holding the author’s book. Or use Legos to duplicate a company’s logo in a creative way.
And there’s also the WWJD issue…
* Leviticus 19:28 specifically proscribes tattoos. No wiggle room there!
* We’re not under the OT, and the NT doesn’t specifically address the question…however…
* 1 Peter 3:3-4 does say that beauty should come from within, not from outward adornment
* 1 Cor. 6:19-20 states that our body is a ‘loaner’, but that it’s a temple of the Holy Spirit…which has been purchased at a high price. Tattooing, in this case, would be kind of like borrowing your neighbour’s car and repainting it, after chopping the top and turning it into a lowrider.
* And in Romans 14:23, we’re reminded that something that doesn’t come from faith is sin.
* On the “maybe it’s OK” side, 1 Cor 10:31 does say that whatever we do, we should do it for the glory of God, and while one does see religious tattoos, I find it hard to believe that faith could not have been expressed in another way, one that does not violate the other precepts
* Did Jesus have anything to say about this? Not directly, but in Matt5:17 He said that He didn’t come to deep-six the Mosaic laws and the prophet’s’ writings, but to fulfill them. This would seem to imply that we might well be bound by Leviticus, after all.
* For “what to name the kid”, Jesus’ remark in Matt. 19:14 about letting the little ones come to Him, without hindrance, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven would imply that we owe kids a modicum of respect, and that begins with the thoughtful choice of a name, one that isn’t chosen for weirdness or stylishness…and certainly one that isn’t a contest entry.
I know a grandmother who proudly wears tattoos with each child’s name, eight in all. I wonder how lovingly that will be remembered. Will the kids have fond memories os their names inked on Gran’s body?
Hm, good question. It strikes me as a bit unsettling. Especially since tats are trendy.
Since the point of marketing is to garner attention for your product, those two campaigns could be termed successful even thought they weren’t completed.
I’d be willing to do some marketing things that took me out of my comfort/convince zone.
My pet marketing peeve is tee shirts and hats (or any clothing really) that costs the consumer more than $5-10 (the actual cost of the item). If I’m going to walk around advertising your concert tour/tourist destination/restaurant, I shouldn’t have to pay you for the privilege. No one in my family gets that so I’m probably weird. But I knew that already.
Carrie, my husband refused to buy clothing that had the company’s logo visible because he didn’t want to pay someone to advertise for them. Great minds, right?
Oh my! He sounds like a kindred spirit! And don’t even get me started on golf wear.
Since I’ve driven through a mountain blizzard just after 5 in the morning to catch a flight to a morning meeting in California, I would never say no to getting up early for a marketing request, but I don’t have any health issues that would prevent it. Maybe that was a factor, but the person was reluctant to reveal the reason. The only thing that would be certain to keep me from accommodating the marketing folks would be if they asked me to do something that dishonored God. Surely no Christian publishing house would ever do that, so I’d be game for just about anything. Maybe not riding a bucking horse (I like my bones unbroken) but I might run from a bull if it looked like the fence was close enough for me to beat him. Add some rodeo clowns, and I’d do it for sure.
Carol, I draw the line at the fence between the bucking bronc, the raging bull, and me. I’d definitely be asking, “How many books do you think these shenanigans will sell?”
Honestly, the Hatchette idea doesn’t bother me at all because it gained attention from a particular market and those people had a choice in the matter. The BJ’s one irks me because the child has no choice in the matter. Like Andrew stated, however, there really are no limits to what some people will come up with and attempt for those few moments of fame and fortune.
Cheryl, you make a good point that an adult is choosing to be tattooed while the child has no say in his or her parents’ choice of a name.
In my opinion the two contests are just plain silly and a good example of the mindset, “any attention is good attention.” Sadly, this type of thinking runs rampant through our society.