SEX! KINK! EROTICA!

By Laura A Lacey, on 6 March 2013

50 shades of greyNow that I’ve got your attention you might be interested in this…

Thankfully, E.L. James and Random House did not favour this in-your-face approach to marketing Fifty Shades. This week, as part of a triple whammy of brilliant guests from marketing professionals, we were treated to a case study of the rise and rise of this unavoidable phenomenon. Sarah Page of Random House gave us an inside look at their massively ambitious marketing campaign and explained why they didn’t need to big up the content.

Traditional techniques were used in a big way: with posters on the underground, at railway stations, airports, and in the print media. The recurring message was ‘Discover the book everybody’s talking about’, giving no clues as to the erotic nature of the book. Nor did the cover give anything away, instead appearing more innocently like a crime thriller. The press coverage, twitter storm, and word of mouth among women up and down the UK did all this for them. Random House just wanted to encourage readers to get involved in the conversation by reading the book, the media frenzy increasingly did the work for them.

Amazingly Random House acquired the UK rights to the self-published eBook and six weeks later had it printed and on shelves. Sarah stressed that speed was essential if they were to trade off the buzz already created amongst Australian and American women. The sales team worked hard to get the retailers on board quickly, using statistics of how well it was selling across the pond. Spaces in shops were already booked up so the publishers provided good, old-fashioned dumpbins, especially in supermarkets where prices were rock bottom but volume was high. The publishers decided to release all three at once; it was feared that if readers had to wait they would lose their enthusiasm and, from a commercial perspective, sales would be driven to internet sources. This certainly paid off and the books famously became the fastest selling book in UK history.

Perhaps the most surprising part of Sarah’s presentation came next, as she revealed how they started to broaden the appeal of the books from the ‘mummy porn’ audience it had already satisfied. They ran advertising aimed at men who wanted to find out what their partners were reading, opening up the gift market with the cheeky line ‘Give her what she really wants this Christmas’, and women over 40… Yep, that’s right, they targeted the granny market with a full page ad in Saga magazine – who knew?

So what next for a woman who has saved hundreds of marriages, inspired the conception of a generation of babies, single-handedly kept Ann Summers in business, and generally upped the country’s libidos? Well, she’s keeping that a secret, but you can be sure it will be another publishing phenomenon.

By Laura Lacey, working towards a career in trade fiction.