Thursday, February 21, 2008

Advertising and the book industry: When does it work?

I’m a big fan of creative advertising. One of my favorite ads in recent years is Honda’s “Cog” commercial

In addition to being flat-out amazing work, this was one of the first ad campaigns to join the Web 2.0 movement. As soon as the video was posted on the Internet, it became a viral success story as viewers began sharing the clip with their friends and other online social networks.

The goal of advertising is two-fold: to promote a particular product/service and to create brand awareness at the same time. In the case of the “Cog” commercial, Honda’s investment paid off. They were able to promote their latest car model and build their brand’s visibility by inspiring word-of-mouth (or in this case, click-of-mouse) among consumers.

There is little doubt that advertising is an effective way to sell cars, but is it an effective way to sell books?

I firmly believe that an author should only consider advertising after they’ve established a brand for themselves. What makes an author a brand? Although there are several indicators, an obvious sign is when the author’s name appears on their book’s cover in bigger, bolder font than the book’s title. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at recent releases by big-name authors like Stephen King, Suze Orman and Tom Wolfe (I use the term recent relatively with Tom)—you almost have to squint to see what the book is titled!

Think about your favorite, prolific author. Do you wait for rave reviews from The New York Times, USA Today or The Washington Post before you hop on Amazon to buy their latest release? My guess is no. Most readers develop such a level of attachment (or brand loyalty) to their favorite author that they don’t need to know much about a new release before they decide to read it.

Publishers know that when an author has a nice-sized pool of loyal followers, the only thing needed to trigger a buying decision is to let the market know that the newest book is available. Ads are a cost-effective way to do that.

When does it not work?

I always cringe when I see unknown authors empty their pockets on advertising because I know they lack the name recognition to capitalize on the exposure. If an author ponies up $45K for a one day ad in USA Today announcing the release of their debut novel, they aren't likely to trigger a large number of sales. At the same time, that exact ad space might be enough to send a Malcolm Gladwell or Nora Roberts book to the best seller list.

If you’re an unknown author, the name of the game is credibility. Consumers know that ad space hasn't been earned, it's been purchased, and they naturally view the information as biased. Focus your time and resources on establishing your credibility through “earned media” opportunities (IE: publicity) rather than “paid for” opportunities (ie: advertising). Once you have a loyal fan base, advertising just might be worth your dime.

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Blogger Payton L. Inkletter said...

That was a fabulous piece, Rusty, of telling it as it is, so thank you. You make some very pertinent observations, including the savviness of the buying public. Maybe in the 1800’s a full page advert for an unknown snake oil would be a winner, but we’re all jaded nowadays, and tired of getting burnt.

Your point about doing the hard yards to establish a brand name before splashing the lettuce (if you have any) ring perfectly true: at the very least, it will greatly leverage every dollar spent promising the reader rewards.

Please keep these gems coming, for I believe I do speak for others when I say I find P&P’s advice most stimulating and even inspirational.

February 21, 2008 at 7:35 PM  

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