Thursday, October 25, 2012

Curmudgeon's Corner: Marketing or False Advertising?

Welcome back Shawn Keenan, the author of both The Intern's Tale and The Buried Covenant. If you haven't read these books, you should. He has graciously agreed to guest post on Curmudgeon's Corner-- something I hope I'll badger him into doing again in the future. Don't forget to stop by his great blog, Errant Author at

I’m not really sure what the laws on the books are about false advertising.  As a rule of thumb, I don’t think companies are allowed to make claims that aren’t factually true to induce you to buy a product.  But what about just out-and-out lying?  Politicians do it all the time, and we elect (or buy) them to run our country and spend our tax dollars.  So I guess there’s a fine line.

I watched the movie Five Year Engagement last night staring that guy from the Muppet movie and that British chick from lots of stuff who may have dated Matt Damon at one time.  The movie was good and I recommend it.  This was the movie that ran that commercial so frequently with the little girl pulling the crossbow, shooting the British chick in the leg, and yelling “I’m Katniss”.  We all chuckled, because it was morbidly humorous and wonderfully topical, considering the popularity of The Hunger Games.  I actually preferred the slapstick humor of Muppet guy jumping into a pile of snow and landing on a fire hydrant.  But I digress.

Imagine my surprise when we get to that over-played moment in the movie when the girl pulls the crossbow and yells, “I’m Pocahontas!”  You heard me right, she didn’t say Katniss.  Why?  What was the purpose of changing that?  When did the change happen?  Based on my rudimentary understanding of copyright laws, etc., I don’t think there is an issue with using a fictional character’s name in a movie.  It happens all the time, and we know they ran that commercial ad nausea without a cease and desist order.  So what happened?

My theory is this.  The movie was shot with the Pocahontas scene.  When it came time to promote it, the marketing team said, “Hey, you know what’s hot right now?  Hunger Games!  Let’s have that brat kid yell Katniss in the preview.  We’ll dub it in and sell lots more tickets.”

So, who has two thumbs and feels manipulated?  *Imagine me with my two thumbs pointing at myself.*

I’d like to say I’m furious and will be writing letters to the studio promoting this movie until I receive satisfaction and a return of the $1.29 I spent renting this deceptive movie.  But, in this case, I still loved the movie.  And I didn’t care what the kid said, the point was that Muppet guy had been irresponsible and left the crossbow on the kitchen table.  That was the point of that scene anyway.

‘Wow, this is a long and pointless rant as it relates to books’ you’re rightfully thinking.  But it made me think about how books are marketed, and a big component of that is the covers.  You know, those things you aren’t supposed to judge with but inevitably do.  Two books came to mind.  One that I feel misled me and one that I think took strange artistic liberties that had no connection with the content of the book.

Gone (Gone, #1)Gone is a novel about middle school kids who are left behind when something happens to all the adults, blah, blah, blah, Lord of the Flies.  The cover showed young adults – high school age for sure.  The novel was about twelve-year-olds, if I remember correctly.  Anyway, big difference in how a story plays out when you are expecting an older, more intense story.  I just felt misled by the cover.  Due to the age of the characters, everything felt less serious and less intense.  I kept flipping back to the cover, thinking, ‘They can’t look like this.  They too young!’

Fallen (Fallen, #1)So on to my second example.  The book Fallen has a picture of a girl in a beautiful flowing dress on the cover.  No, this isn’t why I bought it, but after reading the book and being largely disappointed, I looked at the cover again and realized nowhere in the story is the main character dressed anything like that.  It doesn’t fit any scene in the story.  So what was the thinking here?  Obviously, a marketing team and  focus group session run amok!

So when is bending the truth, dimming the lights a little, and twisting the facts a reasonable tactic to promote a story and when is it a betrayal of the sacred trust between storyteller and audience?  I think in the end, you’ll know by how you react to it.  I brushed off the Katniss thing and recommended the movie to others. 

I didn’t buy the sequel to Gone.

What do you think of marketing/false advertising?

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  1. Really interesting thoughts. I think due to rushed publishing schedules that marketing departments sometimes begin to design book covers before they've read them. My understanding is the acquisitions editor "launches" them at a big marketing/PR meeting at a specific time and if the draft of the MS is not yet ready the cover designers might have to work solely off the editor's description for awhile.

    I do think the best covers represent both the storyline and the tone of the book, but in the end a cover's job is to sell copies. I've seen a lot of angry posts over cover designs that change mid-trilogy, but that change is almost always market-driven. Also, depending on publisher and author clout, the author may have very little say about their cover or title.

    While I don't have a problem with a bit of 'cover fraud' (that Fallen cover is one of my faves) I DO have a problem with 'jacket flap fraud.' Even though flap copy also exists to sell books, it is usually written by (or at least approved by) editor and author. If your flap promises me an epic battle to the death between dueling magicians, then I expect action and bloodshed, you know?

  2. Thank you for a really interesting post and your honest thoughts on marketing and false advertising. The most important part of advertising a book is the cover and so having an image that doesn't connect to the story at all is something that is very wrong, and which should embody all the parts of the tale that one is going to read. I also don't think that it is particularly nice when a book is advertised to be released by a certain date, but then is unavaliable to actually buy until a few days later. It is certainly the book cover issue that would matter a lot to me (as a reader who does sometimes judge a story by its cover) and so if i found something that was not true to what was inside the pages then i would be most upset and disapointed.

  3. I think most people who read a lot of books do often judge a book by its cover and I agree that it isn't right for a cover to not relate to the book at all. That would really bother me and I am glad I am not the only one.

  4. Agree that covers/posters should match the books/movies, but they usually don't

  5. Oh yeah, this is incredibly irritating for me when the cover of the book doesn't match the book AT ALL. It's one thing for an indie author on a low/zero budget with little experience to be a little off. But for big publishers, it's something else entirely. They have the budget to put just about whatever they want on a cover, yet they still continue to put whatever they think will make them money. In the long run, in my eyes, that only hurts them because it lowers my opinion of them and lowers the chance that I will spend whatever money I do have on one of their books.