Marketing: Tal Bachman uses ex-Mo status to sell new record

A Soft Answer has the news that it appears that Canadian pop-rock artist Tal Bachman is using his recent break from the LDS Church as part of the marketing campaign for his new album.

A Soft Answer posts this quote from a recent news story on Bachman:

“Tal Bachman has left the Mormons! Kind of makes the usual screwed-by-the-record-company story pale by comparison, doesn’t it? Bachman plays this afternoon at 3 at the Nest on the NAIT campus — a solo ‘story and song’ gig to promote his new CD, Staring Down the Sun.”

And then says: “I don’t begrudge him leaving the Church for his personal beliefs. That must have been a very hard and personal decision. But because I would think it was a hard and personal decision I don’t understand why it is the main angle on stories where he is publicizing his latest effort.”

I completely agree. In a previous post on Bachman, I tried to cut him some slack — suggesting that his openness about his alienation from the chruch was, in part, to give fair warning to his Mormon fans. At the time, it was very clear that this was an important part of his personal life and the type of change that would be important to communicate to his most rabid fans (those that would seek out his Web site).

I find it amusing, however, that it’s become an actual part of the marketing campaign. And despite the spin above, I wonder what is really gained from it.

Yes there is a long tradition of pop artists representing ‘comeback albums’ — Bachman’s last album was released five years ago — as the story of overcoming traumas and travails, but those usually involve addictions, failed relationships, accidents, health problems, major infighting among band members, and, yes, battles with record labels. But it’s not clear to me that losing one’s faith is going to be that compelling of a story to the average pop culture consumer.

As an active Mormon, Bachman was a bit of curiousity. Now he’s just another pop musician trying to make a comeback.

I could be wrong.

After all, The whole premise of these comeback albums seems to be that suffering and turmoil fuels the creative fires and theoretically leads to intense, vibrant music. Bachman’s whole journey away from faith certainly seems to have been the type of turbulent life change that can’t help but impact one’s creative endeavors.

But I don’t know that an album that is the fruit of a personal religious struggle has quite the same verve to it. It seems too subtle — an experience more appropriate for a play or novel.

Note that I’m referring to the way the album is marketed, the story told about it to consumers, and am not making an predictions about its actual aesthetic qualities. I guess I could go buy the album. But I won’t. Not because of any backlash on my part, but because Bachman doesn’t make music that I’m all that interested in. If any AMV readers do buy or listen to it and want to comment on it here or even send me a review to post, I’d love to hear from you.

ALSO: I hate to use the whole “it’s a play on words — get it?” thing again.

But…

Did you notice that the title of Bachman’s new album is “Staring Down the Sun”?

Marketing: Mormon mailing lists

I received a surprising piece of mail back in January or February 2003 — a postcard plugging the release of the Halestorm film “The RM.” I experienced a moment of righteous indignation as I thought there was no way that Halestorm could have gotten a hold of my postal address without engaging in anti-consumer behavior. After I calmed down, I realized that the most likely scenario is that Seagull Book & Tape (who does have my address — and received it legitimately) shared or sold Halestorm their mailing list. Not the the most consumer-friendly practice, but at least they are pushing similar products and so one could reasonably assume that if I’m interested in what Seagull (they own the local LDS bookstore) sells, I might be interested in LDS film. It’s possible that it wasn’t Seagull, but the only other possibility is the Association for Mormon Letters, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t cut a deal with Halestorm or any other LDS film company or book publisher.

Either way, the experience sensitized me to the world of Mormon marketing so I was intrigued by the discovery that the LDS music festival I mentioned two weeks ago (the whole Fireside Song thing) is being produced by LDS Marketing Group Inc.

Before I discuss the LDS Marketing Group, let me just get this out of the way:

It must be incredibly frustrating to be an purveyor of LDS-related products or services. Here you have a fairly discrete, homogenous population tied in to an institution that is set up so that (at least theoretically) every member of the group can be reached via a network of stewardships and communication lines and you aren’t able (or supposed) to use that network to get the word out to potential customers. And I’m not being wholly sarcastic here. After all, as someone with a keen interest in seeing the market for Mormon cultural products expand and mature, I want LDS to become accustomed to the idea of themselves as consumers of Mormon culture.

This is all to say that I’m sure it’s difficult to start and maintain a Mormon mailing list unless you are Deseret Book or Seagull or Signature.

So what does a new player on the scene do to market their Mormon-related products?

Contact the LDS Marketing Group, of course.

Through a program called Latter-Day Values (it’s a play on words — get it?), the LDS Marketing Program is creating (has created? their Web site hasn’t been updated in awhile) a co-op mailng program of up to 30 businesses to market products to U.S. Mormons. In order to keep costs low, the mailing consists of 5 1/2 X 3 1/2 inch postcards and can be targeted to specific regions or even sub-regions (e.g. Northern California, Orem). What’s more Latter-Day Values claims to have “approximately” 1 million LDS households in its database and thus is able to reach 80% of all U.S. LDS households.

Hey — this sounds like a possible source of my “The RM” postcard. But here’s the real question: how did they build such a comprehensive mailing list?

According to their marketing kit (note: requires Adobe Reader):

“The LDS Marketing Group serves as an exclusive List Administrator for a number of LDS list sources. Our total list is comprised entirely of LDS consumers who have purchased LDS products in the past or have expressed an interest in purchasing LDS products. It is, in its purist form, an ‘opt-in’ list. Therefore, these are the ‘cream of the crop’ as far as prospects go.”

So. Does this mean that LDS publishers and companies have sold their mailing lists? Not illegal, even unethical (according to some), but kind of annoying.

I also wonder why the bigger players would want to share their mailing lists. If I were Deseret Book, Seagull, Covenant, Excel or even Signature, I’d jealously guard my list.

I may have more to say on this whole idea of Mormon marketing in the near future, but for now, I want to open this up to AMV readers.

Have you been receiving postcards touting Mormon products? Have you encountered examples of marketing that you thought were somewhat dubious (I have a Living Scriptures story, but I’ll let you share yours first)? Have you ever been asked to share your family members and/or fellow ward or branch members contact info with LDS companies?

The real subtext of all this, of course, is my concern that ward and branch directories have been used in creating some of the mailing lists out there. I’m not saying that this is the case with Latter-Day Values or any of the companies I mention in this post. But I welcome all comments, insider knowledge, anecdotes, etc.

Marketing: Can sports equipment sell movie tickets?

In an attempt to create buzz for the early 2005 release of its movie “Church Ball,” Halestorm Entertainment has teamed up with LDS Living to offer an actual Church Ball-branded basketball (thanks to LDS Today and LDS Review for the heads up). According generic cialis 10mg to an Aug. 25 Deseret Morning News article, “hundreds of the tongue-in-cheek balls have been sold.”

If the ball is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, then either someone forgot to tell LDS Living’s marketing folks or they have a very dry sense of humor. Here’s how they position the product on their Web site:

“Designed for the most dedicated players and priced to make a great gift, this ball is also great for collectors. In celebration of the release of the first Church Ball„¢, the first run is a limited edition collector’s piece that will make a great addition to any sports memorabilia set. Comes in a beautiful display box that will look good on any shelf.”

But either way, the question for A Motley Vision is how effective this marketing stunt (and I’m a huge fan of marketing stunts) will be in generating ticket sales for “Church Ball.”

A few observations:

1. The target market for this product and the movie is huge. The church basketball meme has been ingrained (for good or ill — usually a mixture of both) in several generations of LDS men, especially those living in the Intermountain West. What will be interesting to see is if the target market responds. Mormon women constitute a huge percentage of the consumers of LDS products. The Church Ball basketball is being sold in LDS bookstores. Will men seek it out? Will their wives (many of whom may have mixed feelings about church basketball) buy it for them?

2. $24.95 is a high price for a novelty item. The trick is: will LDS consumers see the product as either a must-have novelty item or both a novelty item and a piece of sports equipment? If consumers look at the product, think “that’s kind of funny/cool” and then make the leap to either “that’s so funny/cool I have to have it” or “you know, I or so-and-so could use a new basketball, might as well get this one since it’s kind of funny/cool/unique” then it may sell fairly well. It becomes like the LDS version of Monopoly or the Book of Mormon version of Settlers of Catan.

If it’s one of those things where the concept gets a laugh or a “that’s cool” but that’s all, then, obviously, you’ll be able to pick one up in the discount bin four months from now.

3. Does the Church Ball basketball have any kitsch value (which would bring in a different type of LDS consumer)? I don’t know for sure. It comes across as a little too earnest. Plus, it’s a basketball — the core product (without the LDS customization) has no inherent kitsch-ness. In other words, it’s not a Book of Mormon action figure.

4. Even if the product fails, at the very least it will create some buzz for the movie. It already garnered the Deseret Morning News story. My guess is that it’ll have some good word-of-mouth on Utah college campuses as classes begin in the next couple of weeks. It’s a genius marketing idea because it’s a way to hype the movie without over-hyping. But is the hype coming too soon considering that the movie isn’t coming out until next yar? If the product gets a second wind at Christmas, probably not. If this story is the only significant media coverage between now and the movie release, then perhaps so.

5. Will the buzz lead to ticket sales? Probably. The more interesting question for me is how many of those who buy the product will go see the movie? I especially see this as being an issue with LDS men in their thirties and forties who might think the product is cool but have no interest in the movie. I could be wrong.

6. How long before someone in some stake somewhere claims that the Church Ball basketballs are ‘official’ equipment and what the Church wants us to use because they better represent the spirit in which the game is to be played — what with the rules on them and all?

7. Someone should buy one for Orson Scott Card.

Marketing: Deseret Book’s book club

As part of its continued Oprahfication, Deseret Book has started a book club. I have long thought that considering how small the market is, LDS publishers and booksellers should team up to provide enticements to book clubs — discounts, reading questions, extended author’s bio, sneak peaks at upcoming titles, background material (drawn from the research the author did in writing the book), etc. The chance to sell 8-10 copies of one title is not one that should be passed up.

Deseret Book’s book clubs are geared towards women and organized online. Participants receive 30% discounts off of each month’s title, free tickets to DB-sponsored events, and a “Discovery Guide” with reading questions and suggestions on what to write about in your journal. In the grand Mormon tradition of Nuskin and Amway, wannabe book club leaders who are able to gather together a full quorum of participants (8-25) receive additional incentives.

So far the three titles selected for the book club are devotional or inspirational nonfiction works. That’s disappointing. I hope that works of fiction are also included in the program — although considering the image DB is projecting for this venture, I doubt that will happen.

The Discovery Guides read suspiciously like the questions at the end of each lesson of the current Priesthood/Relief Society manuals (and other correlated materials). Does that really appeal to DB’s potential participants? Don’t they (they not we — I’m not including myself in this because, well, look at the Web sites I’ve linked to above) get enough self-improvement discourse on Sundays?

Obviously not, considering that devotional and self-help titles sell well in the LDS market. And to be fair, the Discovery Guides don’t seem that much different from what you find with Oprah or any of the other self-help gurus. This seems to be a discourse that resonates with middle-aged, middle class American women.

One thing that DB’s system doesn’t do is allow for those LDS book groups who prefer to choose their own selections and (so far) for those who prefer to throw some fiction into the mix.

This opens up some room for the other LDS publishers, I think — especially Covenant (but also Cedar Fort and others). Covenant should totally team up with Seagull Book and Tape and provide incentives to book groups. They could have a monthly selection, but they should also have incentives and free supplementary materials for all of the titles that are likely to sell well and make those (and the discounts) available to book clubs who come through with a minimum (DB’s starting point of 8 seems reasonable) number of orders. And while much of this could be online or e-mailed, it wouldn’t cost that much to offer print materials through bricks-and-mortar stores as well — i.e. individual bookstores could have special online access to materials and print them out for book club members.

ALSO: One more incentive that I’d offer to LDS book clubs — special notification of and the ability to submit questions for an online chat with the author.

Marketing: Calling out Larry Miller

So how come all the aspiring and/or established LDS filmmakers hit up Larry Miller for financing? Seriously, first there was Richard Dutcher, then Scott Swofford, [and then Richard Dutcher again], and now Tyler Ford.

What, you haven’t heard of Tyler Ford? Well, neither has Miller, so to rectify that situation Ford, an aspiring London-based LDS filmmaker, has created www.youdontknowthisguy.com/.

From a marketing perspective, it’s not a bad idea. After all, it got picked up by LDS Today [which is where I ran across the link — thanks, guys] — and from there by me. And although I’m not sold on their effectiveness, I am a fan of goofy marketing stunts. And, after all, big risks and gutsy moves are an integral part of the independent filmmaking mythos.

But I have to say that I was looking for more from Ford’s cleverly-titled Website than a lame top 10 list. I mean the story idea for the film is somewhat intriguing. So how about a sample dialogue, a couple of story boards or even a 4-5 minute shot and edited scene from the film?

And I don’t like that the press release reveals that he’s already tried to pitch his idea to Miller. Relevant quote: “According to a member of Larry Miller’s staff, he gets as many as 15 business proposals per day. Ford’s web site is what he calls the ‘creative approach.'” You do something like this and you have to maintain the veneer of goofiness and moxie — revealing that you’ve already been turned away shifts the focus. It makes you seem reactive rather than proactive.

In fact, the entire press release could use some work. It’s both too informative [personal] and not informative enough. I also don’t buy the England/Europe angle.

As a cheerleader for Mormon art, I hope Ford is able to make his film and I admire his enthusiasm. But as a public relations flack, I hope that he seeks out some marketing advice and refines his approach. The world of LDS film already has enough bad press releases.

BONUS: I do give Ford mad props for setting up a site where you can view short films made by LDS filmmakers for free.