In Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the people of the planet Golgafrinchan address an overcrowding problem by persuading a segment of their population that the planet is under threat from an enormous mutant star goat and that everyone is to be put on Arks and travel to a new planet. The A Ark is to contain the leaders, the C Ark will house the workers and the B Ark will be for what they call the useless third of the population (telephone sanitisers, management consultants and marketing executives etc). Of course only the B Ark is ever built and dispatched, ultimately crashing into Earth and ridding the good people of Golgafrinchan of the people who perform no useful purpose.
There is a reason marketing types are included in the B Ark and I’d like to build them a real one.
This Sunday is mother’s day here in Australia and, judging by the endless stream of physical and virtual catalogues I have been bombarded by this week, the only acceptable book-ish presents for my mum are
(a) a cook book
(b) a paranormal/fantasy romance novel
(c) something that will make her cry
Alternatively (or in addition) I should also procure an item which is useless but cute and/or pink.
Ugh. To all of it.
My mother would give me ‘the look’ if I were to offer any of these options and I know deep within my heart that she is not the only woman on the planet whose idea of heaven is not reading the latest Jodi Picoult novel while lounging about in new pink PJs.
And before you decry that many women (and, who knows, some men) enjoy reading Jodi Picoult while wearing pink that is not my point and I wish all those people the very best and sincerely hope that the mothers among them enjoy their bountiful gifts today. But my point boils down to: what about the women who don’t like this stuff?
Marketing types behave as if the world consists of about 3 or 4 enormous homogenous groups whose members all like exactly the same things and their endless repetition of demographic stereotyping results in their version of the truth becoming the de facto truth because there’s no viable alternative.
Now in the case of Mother’s Day presents it’s not that big a deal because, well, it’s kind of a silly made up holiday and if a few too many mothers end up consigning a Jodi Picoult novel and a pink teddy bear to the junk drawer it’s not the end of the world. But the self-fulfilment of marketing inspired bull**** can be far more insidious (be grateful this is a book blog otherwise this is the point at which I’d switch to ranting about my least favourite people on the planet: the marketing gurus who convinced the developed world it needed bottled water).
Jason Pinter wrote an article called Why Men Don’t Read in the Huffington Post a couple of weeks ago. Said article was much misunderstood in that many people responded by arguing that they knew a man (or men) who does read and therefore the article was wrong. However Pinter’s argument was actually that although of course men do read they could easily be forgiven for not doing so because publishers (egged on by the marketing executives) are convinced that they don’t. They believe that only women read and therefore they tend not to commission books that are more likely to appeal to men, especially not those books which might only appeal to a demographically insignificant subset of men such as wrestling fans as in Pinter’s example.
In my dream universe publishers would wake up to the fact that there are all sorts of people buying (and reading) books and that if they didn’t blow their entire marketing budget on having everyone talk about a couple of books each year then they could sell a healthy number of copies of loads of different books.
And in my dream universe the marketers would be on a B Ark headed off-planet somewhere.
Bernadette – Can you hear me applauding?!? I just love the points that you make. There really are too many marketing types, both in the publishing industry and elsewhere, who make assumptions about what people want. They then use all of their power and buckets of money to convince us that their assumptions are right. It’s amazing! So…when is that ship leaving??? ; )
If the people who were the intended cargo had to build their own arks, the only one that would get built is the C ark – the leaders and the useless people would just sit around all day talking about it.
Totally agree with your post – skipping over the mothers’ day ludicrosities which we have mutually commiserated on before, I wonder if one solution to the” Pinter fingerpoint” is to split covers more? Marketing people see the book as a brand and so there is a lot of conservatism about this. But it has worked well in some cases, most particularly the Harry Potter adult/child covers, and you see experiments eg Wolf Hall in black or white. So maybe they should try “male” and “female” covers. I expect I would buy the male ones;-)
It reminds me once of when my first child was a baby and I was in M&S struggling to find her her first proper post-“babygro” clothes. Everything was either pink/frilly/wishywashy cartoon characters on; or dark colour with violent cartoon character on. I was standing there bemused (as a working mum who went straight back to work a few weeks after giving birth all this was an alien world to me) when an assitant came up (it was a long time ago!) and asked if she could help. I said “Where are the children’s clothes that aren’t for boys or girls?” She looked at me as if I were mad. Of course, I subsequently realised that I am mad, so these days it all tends to wash over me as I realise that I am “just different” and there is no point in getting het up about it as the world just isn’t going to be sensible however much I might want it to be.
LOL Maxine – all those chiefs with no workers would no doubt screw up the construction of the A Ark.
And I’ve resigned myself to always out of step with the rest of the world too. But occasionally a girl likes to dream.
You hit the nail on the head as all the junk mail we have been receiving lately are full of Pink PJ’s, Cook Books, Romance Novels and Kitchen Appliances with the odd Pink MP3 Player thrown in for good measure if we gave any of these to my Ultra Fashionable Mother in Law I’d be given the same look as you 🙂
I enjoyed the post, it’s really good, very useful 😀 Thank you.