Monday, August 16, 2010

Unethical or Brilliant Marketing

crosspost with Self-Published Author's Lounge

This week I have ran across a few articles that complain about some of the marketing done by popular and not so popular books, music, and movies. Some people think that this sort of guerrilla marketing is unethical. Or is it jealousy.

I have a few examples and give my points as a consumer and a writer trying to promote.

Blair Witch Project:
Remember that movie. I thought it was okay. The ending was the best part. This article from Salon from 1999 claims the movie "faked" its fan base.
"'The Blair Witch Project' filmmakers are using their friends to generate their fan sites," says another industry executive point-blank. "That was an organized effort. What happened is that they tricked the press."

Consumer: I would not know if the web site owner was a "friend" of someone with the product. That might be where the "unethical" idea lies. So that makes paying a large firm to do the same thing "ethical"?

Author: No marketing budget, sounds like a great idea. Problem is finding the right friends to maintain it. I have a few fans/friends that would be perfect.

Paying actors to promote your book

Jennifer Belle hired actors to read her book in public and to have small teams of them talk about her book. Some people complain that it's unethical because the public didn't know it was a "commercial".

Consumer: I wouldn't know, but I would be wondering if it was a stunt. Especially if I have never heard of the product and suddenly I see 20 people with it.

Author: F-ing brilliant. So she hired actors to go into the public and promote her book. A lot more fun than having flyers thrust into your face. hmm maybe I need to organize a flash mob.

"Fake" Web sites:
I loved the Doctor Who and the Heroes fake sites. In the bottom there was always a disclaimer of what the site was. Some people enjoy playing around on the fake sites, other might be totally taken in.
Problem: Do people realize it's fake?

Consumer: I'm savvy enough to look for the disclaimer or other signs it's fake, but some people aren't. I think if the site is engaging enough, it would spawn enough interest.

Author: Great idea, but for me, I would have to pay someone else to develop and maintain it. Budget nothing, so out of the picture for me.

I think true unethical marketing is when you sell something that you know will harm people. But using creative ways to sell your book, doesn't seem that bad. Also if you notice in the examples if an relatively unknown uses these techniques its "questionable", but a big name does the same it "amazing"


  1. There is nothing unethical about any of those marketing techniques. They are creative, as you say, and low-budget, which is important to a lowly author/film-maker. I really like your point that these techniques are validated when used by somebody already famous, but it is somehow considered "cheating" for an unknown person to use them. Who made those rules?!?

    I'd like to share my own experience. Someone once emailed me and told me it was unethical for my former students to write a review on Amazon for my book. He suggested I tell the students to take them down or edit them to disclose the fact that they knew me.

    Geez. A lot of people might think it was SWEET for 12 year old kids to write a review for their former teacher's book. I know I was touched. I did not solicit the reviews; it was the kids' idea to post them. Can you imagine me contacting these kids' parents and saying, "Thanks for your support, but it's 'unethical' and I'm going to ask you to delete them."

    If I was JK Rowling or Suzanne Collins, would it be unethical for a neighbor child to write a review? Or is it only for unknowns, like me?

  2. The whole point of creating a film, book, painting, blog, whatever is get people to see it, read it, enjoy it. Creative marketing is to be applauded! Ultimately, the consumer will judge the product on its own merit. Blair Witch marketing campaign was brilliant. Far better than the movie. But that's not a reason to knock the campaign.

    Artists are often limited by budget and may not have the 3 to 6K necessary for a PR campaign. So creative and clever internet marketing is a necessity.

    Co Producer
    Adaptation of Philip K Dick novel.

  3. I was just shared this site

    Interesting it tackles how to market in social media and still be responsible.

  4. These days, social media is one of the biggest promoters for pretty much anyone. I've found at least 3 different authors I'd never even heard of before and now their books are on my 'TBR' list because of social networking through Facebook and Twitter.

    That being said, it's also a problem if every other post is "Hey, buy my book!" It's annoying, and i actually makes me want to read the book LESS. I don't mind authors posting links to reviews, or posting reviews through their blogs.

    In the digital society we are today, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. are going to be great tools to promote pretty much anything. But it's how you use it that counts. Just like tv commercials, radio commercials, and flyers. use it with a modicum of restraint, ethically and without getting too overly pushy, and you'll intrigue someone enough to come and look at what you're selling. If you're too pushy they're going to walk away.