If you’re a woman of a certain age (or the boyfriend/partner/husband of that woman), there’s a good chance you’ve heard about “50 Shades of Grey”, the literary sensation that has been called “Mommy porn” and “Twilight for grownups.” Several women in our office (who shall go unnamed) have read this book recently, and will not shut up…I mean, will not stop talking about its erotic content.
As a writer, a mother and woman pushing “a certain age,” I’m definitely skeptical about this book, namely because I am always skeptical of hyped-up literature. But as a branding professional, I have to confess that I am totally impressed by the way that this book is being marketed to consumers.
“50 Shades” was originally published by a tiny independent press in Australia, and the print distribution was extremely limited, leaving bookstores deprived of copies. Whether or not this was a deliberate ploy of the writer and publisher I’m not sure, but the fact that “50 Shades of Grey” was initially hard to find (and therefore expensive) gave it the same limited edition cache that has made signature collections (like the recent H&M for Marni) so coveted and sought out on eBay. They adhere to a simple marketing formula: The less available the product, the more people want said product.
Of course, “50 Shades” is now available on eReaders like the Kindle, the Nook and the iPad, and the fact that women can read their erotica discreetly is another reason why this book has become such a phenomenon. Now, the person sitting next to you on Metro-North need not know why your cheeks are blushing so profusely, and why you are asking, “Is it hot in here?” while wiping sweat off your brow. In the past, women may have hesitated to purchase a book by Jackie Collins or Sidney Sheldon due to fear of being labeled “a sex-deprived housewife”; today, there is no shame, simply because people have no idea what you are reading.
It also seems that there has been a deliberate grassroots campaign for the book, headed up by a few handpicked “tastemakers” who are appearing on TV shows and in well-placed articles. Lyss Stern, the founder of Divalysscious Moms, has talked about the book on local news stations and in a recent NY Times article (“It’s relighting a fire under a lot of marriages,” she was quoted as saying). These women are virtual ambassadors of “50 Shades of Grey,” and are preaching the gospel about the book in any way they can.
All of this has triggered an unbelievable amount of chatter for “50 Shades” on Facebook, Twitter and numerous blogs (many of them mommy-focused). According to a VP of marketing for Barnes & Noble, conversation about the book online has fed many of the sales. “I think this shows very clearly what the blog network can do,” said Patricia Bostleman. “The word-of-mouth so thoroughly outpaced the availability.”
But that won’t be the case for long, as distribution rights to the book were just sold to Vintage, a division of Knopf Doubleday. Publishing executives are comparing the anticipation of the newly printed books with the hoopla that surrounded “The DaVinci Code” and “Eat, Pray, Love,” and I can’t help but wonder: Once “50 Shades” is more visible and accessible, will it still have the same allure? Will there be a “50 Shades” backlash? Perhaps, but with Hollywood producers engaged in bidding wars for the movie rights, it’s unlikely that “50 Shades of Grey” is going anywhere soon, which is testament to a few smart marketing executives working behind the scenes…somewhere.