Unethical or Brilliant Marketing

crosspost with Mari Miniatt Blog

This week I have ran across a few articles that complain about some of the marketing done by popular and not so popular books, music, and movies. Some people think that this sort of guerrilla marketing is unethical. Or is it jealousy.

I have a few examples and give my points as a consumer and a writer trying to promote.

Blair Witch Project:
Remember that movie. I thought it was okay. The ending was the best part. This article from Salon from 1999 claims the movie “faked” its fan base.
“‘The Blair Witch Project’ filmmakers are using their friends to generate their fan sites,” says another industry executive point-blank. “That was an organized effort. What happened is that they tricked the press.”

Consumer: I would not know if the web site owner was a “friend” of someone with the product. That might be where the “unethical” idea lies. So that makes paying a large firm to do the same thing “ethical”?

Author: No marketing budget, sounds like a great idea. Problem is finding the right friends to maintain it. I have a few fans/friends that would be perfect.

Paying actors to promote your book

Jennifer Belle hired actors to read her book in public and to have small teams of them talk about her book. Some people complain that it’s unethical because the public didn’t know it was a “commercial”.

Consumer: I wouldn’t know, but I would be wondering if it was a stunt. Especially if I have never heard of the product and suddenly I see 20 people with it.

Author: F-ing brilliant. So she hired actors to go into the public and promote her book. A lot more fun than having flyers thrust into your face. hmm maybe I need to organize a flash mob.

“Fake” Web sites:
I loved the Doctor Who and the Heroes fake sites. In the bottom there was always a disclaimer of what the site was. Some people enjoy playing around on the fake sites, other might be totally taken in.
Problem: Do people realize it’s fake?

Consumer: I’m savvy enough to look for the disclaimer or other signs it’s fake, but some people aren’t. I think if the site is engaging enough, it would spawn enough interest.

Author: Great idea, but for me, I would have to pay someone else to develop and maintain it. Budget nothing, so out of the picture for me.

I think true unethical marketing is when you sell something that you know will harm people. But using creative ways to sell your book, doesn’t seem that bad. Also if you notice in the examples if an relatively unknown uses these techniques its “questionable”, but a big name does the same it “amazing”


  1. I think jealousy plays a big part of it. Some authors are supportive, but I’ve heard of cases where they weren’t and actually left 1 star reviews for the authors who were more successful. I don’t think this happens a lot (thankfully), but it’s why I say jealousy.

    I don’t see how any logical person could say marketing that doesn’t hurt anyone is unethical. I mean, if someone killed an animal or put down a certain group of people in the making of a book trailer (as an example), then that’s clearly unethical. Otherwise, why the big fuss?

  2. Great post!

    It’s like the Twilight media blitz. On one hand everyone groans and complains and shouts about the constant Twilight ads everywhere, but whenever you hear the word “Twilight” or see an apple, or something glittering, what do you think of? It’s annoying, but so very, very effective, as all true advertising is.

    1. Well, that’s why they say even bad publicity is good. (And eek! I contribute to it!)

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