Rob Bell and HarperOne: Marketing that Works

Remember how I said that, on the one hand, the Calvinistas  have been waiting for enough evidence to throw Rob Bell (the Jason Bourne of Christianity) into the outer darkness (even if Rob doesn’t believe in an outer darkness )?  And, on the other hand, I predicted that Rob would not take the bait?  Those both seem to be holding true, at least for now.

There’s another player in this story, too.  That’s HarperOne, the publisher of Rob’s new book.  While I don’t know Rob, I do know the people at HarperOne.  They are not underhanded marketers.  I am guessing that the marketing copy they wrote, which has been widely quoted (and which you can read on the Amazon page for the book), was meant to be provocative.  But I don’t think they were so calculating as to think that they were poking a sharp stick in John Piper’s eye.  In fact, their back cover copy on Rob’s book isn’t out-of-step with what they’ve used to promote Brian McLaren’s latest books.

What I’m saying is that I part ways with many other bloggers on this subject — I do not think that HarperOne was attempting to stir up controversy in releasing a provocative paragraph of marketing copy and a promotional video for Rob’s book.  But that copy and video, and a couple leaked chapters of the book were enough to hook Justin Taylor, who blogged about it over the weekend.  Then John Piper decided that he’d promote Rob’s book with a link to Taylor’s blog and a simple three-word tweet:

Piper’s tweet was, as you can see, retweeted scores of time.  That drove traffic to Taylor’s blog, to be sure.  But it also drove interest in the book.  Here’s how the phrase, “rob bell” has trended on Google over the past 30 days:

And the resultant spike in Amazon rank:

I can tell you that it’s very difficult in Amazon’s system for a book to rank when it is not yet shipping.

So, of course, what’s interesting is that all of the consternation from John Piper and Justin Taylor has served, if nothing else, to drive hordes of people to pre-order Rob’s book.  And no one did anything underhanded to achieve this spike in interest.  All they did was produce a book on a topic that lots of people are interested in and float some marketing material in the cloud that hints at what the book’s about. Rob’s theological frenemies took it from there.

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