Learning About Marketing From Politics


Last night a friend of mine from Colorado phoned. I was screening my calls, but picked up when I realized who was on the other end. She laughed and asked me if I was trying to avoid the blitz of political messages that invade our homes.

For the next few minutes we commiserated about the flood of political ads delivered through the airwaves, over the phone, and in the mailbox. So many are negative. Here’s what’s bad about the other guy—bad policy, bad performance, bad presentation.

In fact, my friend and I both said we could hardly wait for the election just to stop the flood of commercials.

Even while we were talking, though, I realized that these candidates for office are simply marketing themselves to the public. In fact, I told my friend about a recent Dilbert cartoon about marketing. Except, typically, I got the punchline wrong, so here’s the real thing:

I think I said “liquor and luck” instead of “guessing.” Guessing is the better term, though. Most professionals in the book business, when they discuss marketing, admit there is no way to know what will work to capture the public’s attention. How many ads, which print reviews, interviews with whom?

Yes, publicists make “educated guesses” and set up as many media contacts as possible, but the author is expected to pitch in, too. Book signings, online reviews, guest blogs, Facebook and Twitter presence, newsletters, email loops …

But here’s the question. Does there come a point when those with whom the author is communicating say, Enough already!

I’ll be honest. I’ve reacted that way from time to time.

As I think about my irritation with the political ads and my reaction to writers marketing their work, a few commonalities surface.

1. Ads that seem invasive are a turn off. How can an author seem “invasive”? For one, I’ve started receiving unsolicited e-newsletters from authors I “know” through email loops. That feels invasive.

Also, when Facebook or Twitter messages are always and only about the new book, that feels spam-ish.

2. Ads are clearly one-sided. Well, they should be, shouldn’t they? We expect that from a commercial.

But what about blog posts or e-newsletters (ones I have subscribed to)? If those only carry content about the author and/or the author’s work, I feel they are nothing more than a sales pitch rather than beneficial communication that offers me, the reader, some take-away (other than an opportunity to be sold to).

3. Ads may be untruthful—and often that fact is apparent without any need to do any checking.

Case in point—here in California Senator Barbara Boxer has an ad running on TV that vilifies her opponent, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, because she laid people off in California while shipping their jobs overseas. In this particular commercial, three or four supposed former employees tell their sad tale of being laid off. And right after one decries the jobs going to places like China, another laments that they even had to train their replacements. What? I thought, HP sent them to China to train Chinese workers?

And of course there’s a little editorializing. The commercial narrator says that Carly Fiorina “proudly stamps” her products “Made in China.” As if somehow this omniscient narrator knows what’s in Ms. Fiorina’s heart and can see just how proud she is.

I could go on and on about the nuanced misrepresentations. But here’s the point—authors can do that too. Only instead of giving a slanted view of a competitor, the view is slanted to give the impression that all readers only love the new release.

I don’t quite know how to handle this one because fans do write in gushing terms at times. But perhaps when reactions are solicited, they don’t hold as much credibility.

I’m not talking about authors asking reviewers to post their reviews at places like Amazon. I’m talking about things like saying, I’ll publish your comments (on a blog, newsletter, or in the next book) if you say nice things. Well, somehow, those nice things don’t seem so genuine any more.

And how about this. When a friend bravely and kindly tells a writer maybe they don’t need to market so hard, the author should listen instead of blogging about why they disagree.

Sometimes more is actually less. Much less!

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Published in: on October 21, 2010 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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