July 14, 2015

Scrap the tattoo: Hachette Australia cancels controversial marketing campaign


girlinthespiderswebLast week, we reported on a somewhat confounding marketing idea by Hachette Australia. The company is publishing the fourth book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, and while said book is not actually written by Larsson—who is dead, and thus unable to write more books—Hachette Australia wanted to think big.

So the company decided to look for a woman to “donate” her back for a tattoo to promote Spider’s Web. As my colleague Kirsten Reach wrote last week, “Oh, dear.”

“Once complete, the tattoo will be photographed and used for outdoor media to promote the launch. The applicant will effectively become ‘the back’ of the campaign,” a Hachette spokesperson told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The price of the black-and-white tattoo, which will be 200 mm by 300 mm (just under a foot), will be covered by the publisher. It will take eight hours, and will be completed by Kaleidoscope Tattoo in Sydney.

We were not the only ones to take note of the . . . unconventionality of this marketing campaign. The story was picked up around the world, and The Verge even used it as an excuse to condemn “past-their-prime industries like book publishing,” because obviously no other industry in history has ever had a stupid idea for a marketing campaign. Yep, this whole mess came about due to the publishing industry’s “desperate[ness],” and not due to the fact that good marketing is generally hard to pull off and that many marketing ideas are bad. (I really hated that Verge piece, in case that’s not coming through.)

Anyway, yesterday marketing and branding magazine B&T reported that the plan was off. The public won! And “tatvertising” lost:

“Our tattoo campaign for The Girl in the Spider’s Web has received a great deal of attention as we intended it to,” said [Justin] Ractliffe [managing director for marketing, publicity and Australian publishing at Hachette Australia]. “The campaign was conceived with good intentions. Much of the coverage has been positive and has reported the whole campaign in the spirit in which it was created, but some people have been offended. As this was never our intention, we have listened and we have decided we will not continue with the tattoo element of the campaign.”

So, lesson learned. No tattoos, no back donations.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web, written by David Lagercrantz, who is not Stieg Larsson, will be published in the US by Knopf on September 1. Tattoos will not be involved.


Mark Krotov is senior editor at Melville House.