See Me, Touch Me, Feel Me


Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits. I was doing the former on the Thursday last, wondering how I was going to fill my Saturday space, when my UPS delivery man (one of God’s truly good people) provided me with the answer. It came in an over-sized black padded envelope, and didn’t feel quite like a book, even though it bore a return address from the fine folks at HarperCollins. I was able to open it after a bit of struggle and the deployment of a knife, scissors, and a flamethrower (in that order). Demonspawn, our family cat, immediately appropriated the envelope, and was last seen attempting to contact his darkworld masters through the closed end; I took possession of the contents. These consisted of an oversized milk carton and a mass market paperback titled “and she was” by Alison Gaylin. The milk carton is a four-sided advertisement for the book.  My initial reaction was, “What the fu-heck is this?” My second was, “This is pretty cool.” I have been described as easily amused, and hard to impress. This little bit of advertising slight-of-hand, worthy of Donald Draper, managed to do both.
The conventional wisdom is that you’ve got to get out on social networks, groom and cultivate your website,  and make friends with a fourteen year old to show you how to use Twitter if you want your book to have a chance of getting noticed, let alone of selling copies.  And it’s probably true. But this milk carton as marketing tool is retro thinking out of the box. “and she was” concerns a missing child, and indeed, there is a picture of the child on one side of the carton. The other sides contain blurbs from Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, Lee Child, and Lisa Gardner; an essay from Ms. Gaylin about Hyperthymestic Syndrome, an element which figures prominently in the book; and some bullet-point marketing information with a photo of the book cover.  
Expensive marketing? Sure. But. The milk carton is our new kitchen table centerpiece. Unlike Facebook and websites and Twitter and the like one can pick it up and touch it and be reminded of the fact that the book is out there and for sale and there’s a copy of it sitting nearby, waiting to be read.  No one has asked me to review the book, but of course this is what the whole package is all about. And the premise certainly looks intriguing. Hyperthymestic Syndrome involves the ability of a person so afflicted to remember, in full, any given day of their life, with all five senses. If I had learned of the book via e-mail there is a 50-50 chance I would have read it. Send me a milk carton, and I’m your loving baby boy.  I’m going to read “and she was” and I’m going to review it.
Am I old-fashioned? Or is there a marketing genius at HarperCollins who is taking us back to the future? If we all are using Facebook and Twitter and e-mail blasts to hawk our wares, are we making their particular needles stand out? Or are we all busily building a brand new huge haystack in cyberspace? And does it mean that to really, really make your book stand out, it is going to take more money than ever  to do so?
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13 thoughts on “See Me, Touch Me, Feel Me

  1. I don’t know, Joe–it seems rather gaudy and over-the-top to me.

    Maybe I’m a product of the nineties, but I’m sure that I would “respond” to a call-to-action on a milk carton…

    I like the idea, I really do. But it seems so… point-blank; so desperate almost? I guess I’d need to see the “marketing” piece in person.

    Like you mentioned, it’s something that sounds pretty expensive, and I happen to like the ability to “connect” directly with my favorite authors on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LiveJournal (just kidding!).

    Great post though! Thanks!

  2. This is the kind of thing that marketing departments of major publishers–and HarperCollins in particular–did all the time. When Nathan’s Run was first published, it came to reviewers inside of a (cheap) child’s backpack. I know it resonated, because I heard about that backpack for years.

    Marketing is all about rising above the noise long enough for your message to be heard. In the world of e-marketing, the noise is getting loudr and louder.

    All of this notwithstanding, Joe, that milk carton has to make for an ugly centerpiece.

    John Gilstrap
    http://www.johngilstrap.com

  3. “The milk carton is our new kitchen table centerpiece.” Joe, you answered your own question. It got your attention, and you blogged about it today sharing the info with others. Let’s hope the book is as good as its promo.

  4. The book must be great for Harper Collins to invest such a large amount of money in marketing. These days, with shrinking publisher support, it takes a book that really shines to garner that kind of marketing campaign.
    HC must believe the sales will cover the initial high cost of marketing.
    It is a fantastic way of getting readers attention and standing out from the crowd.
    I wonder if I should offer a dinner aboard the yacht in the Bahamas this winter to market my book about being a yacht chef…how many copies would I have to sell to cover that marketing campaign?

    Victoria Allman
    author of: SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain
    http://www.victoriaallman.com

  5. I remember when Nicholas Sparks’ marketers sent a box of tissues out with his first or second ARCs. I think they should have sent a razor-sharp knife so the readers could commit Seppuku, but that’s personal opinion, obviously not shared by his readership.

    Publishers rarely spend money for intelligent advertising. They can’t do it for but a few chosen selections.

  6. These things get your attention. But it’s the book that has to hold your attention.

    I wonder if, in the “old days,” critics held such books to a higher standard. I think they much preferred finding a “diamond in the rough” and proclaiming that.

    Word verification: shillsf

  7. For the last 10 or so years I’ve made a dubious living as a purveyor of pop culture and some of the most valuable and most beloved items are limited edition 3-D promo advertising pieces.

    Oh the advertising goodies I’ve pulled out of estates over the years. And the key concept here is that I found it because people kept it (to-wit: the Nathan’s Run backpack).

    I had a Pavlov’s dog twitch as I read this. How freaking cool and clever. As someone who also does graphic design and has to get it printed and shipped, it’s not as pricey as you think.

    In the day of the vanishing ARCs (I’ve read a couple of agent blogs bemoaning going to shows and getting a card with a code to access an ARC rather than a book they have to lug around), to go old school and send a tangible and clever bit of marketing out with the book makes it more solid and memorable.

    Gee thanks . . . I will now be wanting to see this for the rest of the day. You could of at least posted a pic! ::grumble grumble::

    Terri

  8. What a genius idea for marketing. I like it. I wouldn’t want every book I get to have an over the top marketing gimmick, though. Where would I store them all?

  9. Nick and Terri, I’ll e-mail you the pics of the carton in question. I have had trouble with the blogspot’s photo addition thingee, which is why I didn’t display it.

    John G and John M…back in my radio days music and program directors got swag like this all of the time. I still have a set of Lynyrd Skynyrd suspenders somewhere. I redecorated my apartment every other month.

    Joe and James, interestingly enough, the book looks really good! I’ll give a detailed report once I read it.

    Victoria, how many books you will have to sell depends on who you are inviting. I’d offer a free meal but require each attendee to purchase a signed edition of the book for $75.00. Separates the wheat from the chaff.

    Calisa, space is always a problem,
    particularly if one has a tendency toward being a packrat. I know of a gentleman in the Midwest whose house is given over to books and memorabilia. The first two floors of his house are given over to fiction, A-N on the first floor, O-Z on the second. Non-fiction, classified under the DDS, starts on the third floor and then back to rooms in his carriage house. I’ve been told that there is no place to sit. Things aren’t that bad here. Yet.

  10. Joe – Thank you! The publisher is definitely getting behind this book. I plan on looking it up, it sounds intriguing.

    Awesome promo piece. And Skynyrd suspenders? I am completely jealous.

    My best ever advertising bit came from the estate of a high end FORD dealer. His wife never threw anything away. I found a bunch of record albums of the commercials they used to play in the showrooms.

    Cool, but tucked in one of the record jackets was a 1950s promo single of Rosemary Clooney singing the new FORD jingle. It had been sent out to dealers for their opinion.

    In my opinion, it was awesome!

  11. Got kid?

    The milk carton of human unkindness?

    Great promo gimmick, or tasteless tchotchke?

    I’m all for promotion, but this strikes me as potentially offensive and hurtful, or at least insensitive.

    Imagine anyone who’s lost a kid getting this in the mail.

    Or have missing children become the new kittens?

  12. Kevin, I take your point. The item in question is far larger than your standard milk carton and it is very clear from all sides that it, like the book it advertises, is a work of fiction. It’s not at all exploitive.

    I have heard jokes that tie missing celebrities, etc. with milk cartons that are wince-inducing but this isn’t one of those.

    Thanks for reading and please visit again!

Comments are closed.

See Me, Touch Me, Feel Me


Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits. I was doing the former on the Thursday last, wondering how I was going to fill my Saturday space, when my UPS delivery man (one of God’s truly good people) provided me with the answer. It came in an over-sized black padded envelope, and didn’t feel quite like a book, even though it bore a return address from the fine folks at HarperCollins. I was able to open it after a bit of struggle and the deployment of a knife, scissors, and a flamethrower (in that order). Demonspawn, our family cat, immediately appropriated the envelope, and was last seen attempting to contact his darkworld masters through the closed end; I took possession of the contents. These consisted of an oversized milk carton and a mass market paperback titled “and she was” by Alison Gaylin. The milk carton is a four-sided advertisement for the book.  My initial reaction was, “What the fu-heck is this?” My second was, “This is pretty cool.” I have been described as easily amused, and hard to impress. This little bit of advertising slight-of-hand, worthy of Donald Draper, managed to do both.
The conventional wisdom is that you’ve got to get out on social networks, groom and cultivate your website,  and make friends with a fourteen year old to show you how to use Twitter if you want your book to have a chance of getting noticed, let alone of selling copies.  And it’s probably true. But this milk carton as marketing tool is retro thinking out of the box. “and she was” concerns a missing child, and indeed, there is a picture of the child on one side of the carton. The other sides contain blurbs from Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, Lee Child, and Lisa Gardner; an essay from Ms. Gaylin about Hyperthymestic Syndrome, an element which figures prominently in the book; and some bullet-point marketing information with a photo of the book cover.  
Expensive marketing? Sure. But. The milk carton is our new kitchen table centerpiece. Unlike Facebook and websites and Twitter and the like one can pick it up and touch it and be reminded of the fact that the book is out there and for sale and there’s a copy of it sitting nearby, waiting to be read.  No one has asked me to review the book, but of course this is what the whole package is all about. And the premise certainly looks intriguing. Hyperthymestic Syndrome involves the ability of a person so afflicted to remember, in full, any given day of their life, with all five senses. If I had learned of the book via e-mail there is a 50-50 chance I would have read it. Send me a milk carton, and I’m your loving baby boy.  I’m going to read “and she was” and I’m going to review it.
Am I old-fashioned? Or is there a marketing genius at HarperCollins who is taking us back to the future? If we all are using Facebook and Twitter and e-mail blasts to hawk our wares, are we making their particular needles stand out? Or are we all busily building a brand new huge haystack in cyberspace? And does it mean that to really, really make your book stand out, it is going to take more money than ever  to do so?
0