“…one of the greatest dangers of advertising is not that of misleading people, but that of boring them to death.” – Leo Burnett
Hostility to ads – People have developed filters that render them partly immune to torrents of promotions – including book ads. Indeed, perhaps a tad hypocritically, the author of this very post is a diligent user of adblockers and, further, pays little attention to those ads that do leak through (sort of my own internal adblocker). Ambivalence toward marketing isn’t new and digital advertising hasn’t fundamentally changed consumers’ attitudes in this regard. What is new is public appreciation of the Orwellian scale of efforts to collect and curate personal data. This has amplified consumer concern about receiving advertising which they might rightly assume has been targeted to them based on unknowingly and unwillingly collected data on their class, income, interests, and other demographics. Ironically, you’ll be using this data to create bespoke ads promoting your book.
While readers want to hear about upcoming work from favorite authors whom they’re actively following, they’ll be a lot less amused if they’re beset by random ads from indie writers. Instead, readers are more receptive to recommendations about a book from trusted sources such as their friends or respected reviewers…though, as a newbie author, you won’t get many recommendations (or even awareness) from these sources. Promotions may sidestep this conundrum and spread the gospel of your oeuvre, but be prepared for the fact that ads are often unproductive – just read Goodreads author commentary on this topic. However, you have at least a fighting chance if your ads are concise, visual and respect your book’s integrity and the audience’s intelligence. Easier said than done, of course, but the writer should observe other ads in their genre and copy what’s appealing and adapt that to their own promotions. Further, the writer will need to review their ad’s metrics and iteratively make improvments based on what resonates with ad recipients.
Ad inefficiency – Aligned with the points above, whether you promote on social media or online sales platforms (or both), expect wastage. Trying to highlight the idiosyncratic appeal of a literary work on enormous, impersonal platforms using a writer’s penurious ad budget will take trial and error.
For example, placing a FB ad for my (very cool) fantasy, The Lords of Oblivion, was mechanically easy. However, applying intuition and research about my potential readership to reach them effectively with the ad was challenging. I wanted customers living close to San Francisco where the story is set, but limiting ad distribution to a locale was problematic as FB’s algorithm seemed to include not only San Francisco residents, but anyone else who was inferred to have any sort of interest whatever in the city; many of the ad’s recipients didn’t seem to live anywhere near the city or even in California.
More broadly, despite all the data on individuals, there sometimes is only a tenuous connection between presumed and real interests. Though I specified ad distribution to fiction and literature readers, many of the recipients apparently had no interest at all in reading-related activities. A look at your own FB identified interests may convince you that your profile differs significantly from the actual you. If authors have a large following, this may help FB more accurately target advertisements by mirroring the author’s existing followers. However, indie authors may not have tons of followers.
Compounding these challenges, customers don’t actually purchase much based on social media ads. In fact, getting them to do anything is tough. Click through rates are about 1% across business types; people simply aren’t in shopping mode on platforms like FB. Instead, the goal is to create awareness, pique interest, and establish relationships. Thus, an author-advertiser might content themselves with prompting visits to their webpage and obtaining e-mail addresses for subsequent communications. It’s all a bit indirect which is why some large corporations are taking up the challenge of shifting from building brand awareness to driving consumer action. Although not related to books, Ford is an example of using the exquisite precision of social media to place ads in front of consumers at the moment they’re likely to buy – though they have a multi-billion dollar advertising budget to support their efforts (Stoll, Wall Street Journal, 2018).
In contrast to social media, visitors to online sales platforms like Amazon are in shopping mode and more prone to acting on ads. Well, maybe…if they can find a given author’s ad. Considering the volume of promotions on this platform – many of them giving books away for free – a reader browsing for an exciting new novel will have to be attentive indeed to spot a specific ad even if they’re narrowly searching within a particular genre. Further, some ad formats work to steer customers toward books similar to those they’ve historically liked. However, if your book doesn’t fit neatly into popular genres as defined by the platform’s keywords, it may not be positioned for visibility vs a vs other books.
To be continued in a subsequent post.