A view from Dave Trott: Using customers as ads
A view from Dave Trott

Using customers as ads

Recently, my daughter, Jade, and I were walking down West End Lane.

It’s a busy street in south Hampstead and there are two bookshops near each other.

One was open but empty, it didn’t look particularly inviting so we just walked past.

But the next one had a wooden sandwich board outside, with 20 little brown parcels tied with string stuck on to it.

At the top was written: “Blind Date with a Book – £6.99.”

Then, on each little package was written a brief synopsis, without telling you which book was inside.

One said: “Righting wrongs – The list – Marriage – Disabled child – Laugh out loud.”

The next one said: “Jailbird – 18th Century – Erotic – Ghosts -– Magical Realism.”

A third said: “Odd family – Yorkshire – Newly divorced – Romantic comedy – Cute and charming.”

Another one said: “Escape plan – Bossy husband – Rediscovery – New beginnings – Provence.”

Yet another one said: “Good vs Evil – Fears and desires – Fantasy horror – Classic – Ride the carnival.”

And Jade and I started to read them out loud and see if we could guess which book was being described.

Jade read one aloud that said: “Left to die – Mountaineering – Winter horror – Historical – Chills.”

She said: “That’s got to be Touching the Void by Joe Simpson, that’s my favourite.”

I read one aloud that said: “Replicants -– Dystopian earth – Bounty hunter – SF masterpiece – Ingenious.”

I said: “I bet that’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the book that Ridley got the idea for Blade Runner from.”

And people saw us talking and began reading the words on the little brown packages on the other side of the sandwich board.

Pretty soon there were half-a-dozen of us around the display, reading the descriptions.

Some of us began to go inside to look at the bookshelves, some other people saw us reading and chatting and also went inside.

The interesting thing for me was that during all this time, no-one went into the other bookshop.

That bookshop just expected you to walk in but this bookshop was smarter, they did it creatively.

First, they didn’t mention going inside, they just stopped you with a funny line: “Blind Date with a Book – £6.99.”

Then they intrigued you with tantalising descriptions which, if you were a book lover, you’d have to stop and read.

And all the while having you act as an advertisement for their shop by making it look busy and fun, the sort of place book lovers went as opposed to the other empty shop.

The point was, two bookshops near each other, one made an effort and one didn’t.

One owner made their bookshop more appetising, more appealing, and they did it without anyone even noticing that’s what they were doing.

No online advertising, no targeting, no algorithms, no big data, just a little bit of creativity. You love books, we love books, let’s have a bit of fun with it.

The job of the advertising wasn’t to sell you something as you walked by.

The job was to stop you, intrigue you, and seduce you into the shop.

I think we could all learn a lot about how advertising, marketing and media work from that little bookshop in West End Lane

As Adam Barratt said: “Don’t try to lead a horse to water – try to make it thirsty.”

Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three

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