The Da Vinci Marketing Code
University of Ulster business professor lampoons Dan Brown in a unique series of spoof marketing thrillers
As anticipation grows over The Lost Symbol - the long-awaited sequel to The Da Vinci Code - a University of Ulster professor has published the final part of his trilogy on the marketing of Dan Brown thrillers.
The Lost Logo, by Stephen Brown, not only deconstructs the Dan Brown brand phenomenon, but is written in the thrilling style of his best-selling namesake. Brown's trilogy, which also includes The Marketing Code and Agents & Dealers, are the first business books of their kind - management thrillers.
As a serial killer goes on the rampage, slaying Dan Brown fans as they follow the tourist trail in Paris, Rome and Washington DC, the finger of blame soon points at Brown’s former personal assistant and marketing lecturer at the University of Hustler, Simon Magill. Desperate, he turns to a feisty Hustler alumnus for assistance. But Abby Maguire is otherwise engaged. The end of marketing is nigh and only Abby and Simon can save it.
'The Dan Brown books are marketing master classes. They illustrate key marketing principles and an entire marketing industry has grown up around them,' says Brown, who is based at the University of Ulster's Business School.
'My series of spoofs reveal the commercial conspiracy behind Dan Brown’s books - they are also a great teaching tool and are very popular with my students, who prefer them to the traditional textbooks which are often dull and clichéd.'
Brown says that his books help improve his students’ writing skills as they analyse the formula behind the Dan Brown novels. 'Apart from cryptic codes and the inevitable race against time, Brown’s template unfailingly includes a gruesome murder in the prologue, a secret society bent on revenge and a cast of characters with alliterative names. But most importantly, the Brown books are replete with judiciously inserted brand names - luxury products, private jets, flash cars and hi-tech communication equipment in particular.'
Stephen predicts that the new Dan Brown book, set for release on September 15, may well be brimming with brand names. 'There was an 88 percent increase in brand-name dropping between Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, and this trend is likely to continue in The Lost Symbol.
'Dan Brown is now a mega-selling author and his literary real estate represents a priceless product placement opportunity. His earlier novels consistently miss these opportunities but Brown is unlikely to make similar mistakes this time round.'
Such deplorable marketing strategies are not peculiar to Dan Brown novels, however. Brown cites other recent cases in his argument that the literary world, writers and their works are becoming ever more commercialized.
'I know for a fact that authors are actively advertising,' comments Brown. 'Chick-lit writer Carole Matthews, for example, signed a contract with Ford to promote its Fiesta model in her books. Fay Weldon was heavily criticised for The Bulgari Connection; there was a huge row in the States over Cathy’s Book when Procter & Gamble brands were inserted into the narrative; and in Cross James Patterson raves about the leg-room, sunroof and climate control in his protagonist’s Mercedes.
'Books have long been full of brand name-dropping. From an author’s perspective, they add verisimilitude and are an easy way of establishing character. The real issue, though, is whether the brand placements are paid for.
'The key point, then, is that it certainly goes on but it’s not talked about. Not every author wants to starve in a garret and, generally speaking, consumers are less sceptical of product placement in cultural contexts than they are, say, in traditional magazine ads. It is my belief that just as readers suspend their disbelief in order to enter into the world of the novel, so too they suspend their discrimination when it comes to brand name-dropping.'
So what can Dan Brown fans expect from his much anticipated next novel? Brown thinks the long delay of six years since the publication of blockbusting bestseller The Da Vinci Code holds the key.
'Perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Da Vinci Code phenomenon is the inexplicable absence of a follow-up - until now. Dan started work on a sequel in 2003, but it’s taken six long years for The Lost Symbol to appear.
'Is this due to the controversy surrounding The Da Vinci Code? Or is it due to the time-consuming movie adaptation? Is it the pressure to deliver a page-turning sequel, the stress of the alleged plagiarism lawsuits or is it an astute marketing tactic, since strategic delays increase consumer demand exponentially?'
Stephen Brown’s spoof thriller contends that the delay is actually due to the commercial conspiracy orchestrated by a ruthless secret society bent on bringing capitalism to its knees. A page-turning story of death, destruction and disreputable marketing strategies, The Lost Logo is Professor Brown’s 21st book.