Sunday, 27 April 2008

Viral marketing?

A few weeks back I referred to a tall, round, brick chimney, which I thought Chimney_2 might have figured in the landscape of my childhood, but couldn’t be sure. Well, my dear old mum e-mailed me soon after to not only tell me I wasn’t imagining this chimney (phew!), but that the name DOVER, which was painted down its height in large, white capitals, was there to advertise a bike pump.

As she pointed out, someone had gone to greatAntique_bike_pump_2 trouble to advertise a product that was usually supplied with each bike as a matter of course. Indeed, it would be interesting to know how many people ever looked at that chimney and realised they’d lost their bike pump and needed to buy a new one---and a Dover bike pump at that? Or how many people, like myself, passed that chimney on a regular basis and didn’t have a clue what DOVER stood for? If the company owned the chimney it would make more sense to have a logo that size down the side of it, but I don’t think they ever did. Hmm.

Maybe, in a period where we talk about viral marketing and saturation marketing, this early marketing was about as incidental as it got. Advertising and marketing has changed a lot. And yet, in the world of books and music, word-of-mouth is probably one of the most effective forms of promotion there is. How many books have the critics slated or ignored, prior to them becoming phenomenally successful because a network of readers enjoyed them and recommended them to one another? Most of the books we buy, I think, are on our shelves because a friend or colleague told us they were a good read, and not The_dressmaker_frontbecause a critic in The Sunday Rag gave them five carrots or because we were sucked in by thirty seconds of prime time TV advertising or because they were plastered across the side of a bus or ... or painted down a chimney.

Rosalie Ham’s first novel The Dressmaker, which I read in 2005, was one such word-of-mouth success---a quirky 'Australian gothic novel of love, hate & haute couture'. I'm not sure what the critics had to say about it at the time, but for months everyone I met who was recommending a book was recommending this one until it became too difficult to resist buying. It was well worth it as a good read, which also made it the best kind of success story.

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