Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Branding Brown

We all know the kind of hype generated by Dan Brown and his books revolving around Harvard professor Robert Langdon. Recently, the character was brought to life by Tom Hanks as summer blockblusters. But apart from being adapted to the big screen effortlessly, Brown's books have a certain brand of their own.

His contemporary J.K. Rowling has claimed her place in fiction fantasy with the Harry Potter series. Her USP being magic and her audience young. Although Brown's latest offering, "The Lost Symbol" has not been able to overtake the sales figure of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, his books does have a heady mix of mysticism and skepticism, young and old, good and evil. His canvas is larger and his audience older.

But the branding of his protagonist is impeccable. Notice how he describes Langdon's Harris Tweed jacket and collegiate cordovan loafers right at the beginning. What his character wears is part of who he or she is. The BlackBerry and iPhone users in the story are different in their profession, their attitude and their personality. So are the coffee and tea drinkers.

Then comes the branding of the books in general. Described as "brain candy" by the Chicago Tribune, Brown's books can be categorized as a masstige brand. Though accessible and understood by the masses in general, they have a certain prestige associated with them. After all, we are following a "Harvard Professor" in his quest to unlock the mysteries of the world and save a life or two in the process.

Also, the deliberate mismatch in the characterization where academicians form the core of a thrilling plot fit for the Jason Stathams of the world is an obvious play at consumer(reader) aspirations. The actual readers of his books will be likely to be a bookworm whose idea of a Sunday is not chasing fanatics around the globe. So when Brown picks up a Professor from a mundane weekend and places him right in the middle of a chaotic international disturbance, his readers are already hooked. Aspiration as a brand attribute is pretty common in the world of advertising.

Brand Involvement is another key feature in his stories. The codes need to be unraveled, the symbols understood and the mystery solved. He keeps the reader two steps ahead of the protagonist making him or her feel smart.

The marketing of the book is another story altogether. Every form of media is tapped resulting in Doubleday announcing that Brown's "The Lost Symbol" has already sold more than 1 million copies after being on sale for one day in the United States, Canada and Britain. That total includes preorders for the book, which has been at or near the top of Amazon.com for months. The eBook version has been in the news too though the actual sales figure have not been released by Doubleday. The publishing industry is evolving as I write. Not so much the branding. The book, the author and his main character is and will remain a study in passive branding.

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