Thursday 15 March 2012

You Tell Me | Referential Marketing and The Uglies

I burbled a bit about The Hunger Games on Monday, in Bargain Books, and if you cast your minds back, you might remember that I also made mention of them last Thursday, in my review of Julianna Baggot's disappointing Pure. So obviously the marketing campaign for the new movie has done the trick!

Not that that's the point I mean to make. Bear with me a moment here, and we'll find our way back to the start. First we need to factor in a third thing: another notable dystopia. Indeed, one near and dear to many hearts.

That'd be the Uglies books, by Scott Westerfeld.

Very recently Simon & Schuster revealed "incredible" new covers for all three volumes. Actually, for three of the four... because trilogies are the in thing, I suspect, and anyway Extras occupies an odd spot in the series. But here, in any event, are the new jackets:

Utterly unremarkable, aren't they?

Which is a shame, on several fronts: in the first, because this series had some pretty damn decent covers to begin with - use your google-fu, folks - but largely because with The Hunger Games in ascendance, this might be the moment to win over a fair few new readers, and these new editions aren't going to earn any admirers.

Or are they?

As a matter of fact, I think they might.

Because Simon & Schuster's marketing department hasn't entirely missed its chance to piggyback the Uglies books on this latest wave of love for The Hunger Games. Quite the contrary: you probably can't see the text at the top of each of the images embedded above, so let's recap.

The Uglies!

Which is... well. You tell me.

I don't suppose I'm terribly offended. On behalf of the series, that is. I don't think the new jackets are going to entirely outmode the old covers, and maybe a simple message like this will bring renewed interest in Scott Westerfeld's work. Hard-earned interest, I should stress. Westerfeld's quite the writer, and I can't imagine anyone who reads the Uglies because they want something not dissimilar from The Hunger Games will go home disappointed.

Still, the idea of selling one work on the merits of another troubles me somewhat, and I want to know: what do you guys think about this sort of... referential marketing? Good, bad, or butt-ugly?

And another thing. If we extend the question out a bit, how do reviews which make such comparisons sit with you?

Let's bring things full circle with a for instance. In my review of Pure - which is here - I didn't just namecheck Suzanne Collins' sensational trilogy, I took Baggot's book to task (in part) because I felt it lacked The Hunger Games' heart, and the two texts were similar enough in every other sense that I thought it'd be disingenuous of me to omit the mention. Was that a helpful sort of shorthand, or simply lazy criticism?

Honestly, I can't quite decide myself...

So how do you folks feel about all this?

Let's talk it out in the comments! :)


  1. Utterly unremarkable, aren't they?

    The thing is, I think it would work quite well if Uglies was a standalone novel. But it isn't and they've just repeated the same cover three times which is pure laziness. Particularly since the previous covers were so good. As for referential marketing, yeah, it is ugly and lazy but it works and I can't be too bothered about it.

    By the way, when did you change your blog header to Comic Sans!?

  2. @Martin - I didn't! Disgusting, isn't it?

    Long story short: the header's supposed to show in another font, but for some reason, in some browsers it reverts to Comic Sans. This is a horrible problem. I hate Comic Sans with a passion. So I'm finally going to have to do what I should have done years ago, and design a proper logo for the The Speculative Scotsman. With luck, within the next week.

    Sorry everyone for the eyesore in the interim!

    1. Wanna design one for my blog while you're at it? You know, because you love me?

    2. Be that as it may, my graphic design skills begin and end with Paint Shop Pro, so the new logo won't be a work of art. But at least it won't be in Comic Sans. :/

      Really liking this new comments system, though. The age of @ replies is finally at an end!

  3. Having read none of the three series in question, I can contribute nothing of intelligence. That, however, is soon to change (the reading, not the intelligence), as I think The Hunger Games are next on my list. Enough's enough, I've got to find out what this obsession's about. This time, at least.

    1. Still and all, lovely to hear from you, good sir!

      I'd heartily recommend you read the first book of The Hunger Games, Nathaniel. It's fun. Somewhat provocative. And pretty too, at times. But stop after that, or you'll end up hating the whole trilogy.

  4. It's tough, because referential marketing can certainly get you to pay attention to a certain book because it contains tropes from a well-loved book or series. Heck, I know I've found a few favorite titles that way. And I know that many people who are still hankering some of the qualities found in that special book or series will be pleased to know that they can find echoes of it elsewhere, whilst still enjoying something new. (for example, Twilight vs. anything that's ever referenced Twilight. lol)

    But then, it also opens the door for major comparison, perhaps to the detriment of the book doing the referential marketing. If a book or series is going to reference another work as part of its marketing efforts, it had better be a solid work on its own. Because if it has weakness--especially weakness in the same areas that the referenced work has strength--it's gonna get dinged even harder than would've otherwise been the case. Even when when a marketing effort doesn't go the referential route, readers will pick up on similarities and compare (like with Twilight and Afterlight by Elle Jasper), so adding the "official" reference might be setting the referencing title(s) up...particularly when everyone and their mother's mother adored the referenced pieces.

    In short: it's tough to say. ^__^

  5. If it was anything but a book, I'd mind it. For example, I was watching a tv show the other day and all of the characters were enjoying a pizza from a very visible Pizza Hut box... ugh! However, if putting that tagline on the top of these books get more kids reading (i.e. they don't just stop with The Hunger Games or Harry Potter), then I don't mind.

    BTW - I am about a third of the way through The Hunger Games and I like it well enough. I still won't touch Twilight.

    1. Whatever you do, don't! Touch Twilight, I mean to say. That way lies madness...

      But you make an interesting point about product placement, Doug. I don't know that this is quite that, and if it is it's working in reverse, and one way or another: absolutely. If slapping The Hunger Games' name on the Uglies books gets a few more folks reading the series that wouldn't look at it otherwise, I'm all for it. I just feel for the pretty covers from before this debacle, and wonder why in the world they couldn't just slap this new sales pitch on those.

      Anyway, you said pizza, and that's really all it takes, so I'm going to have to go eat pizza now. :)

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