Monday, March 31, 2008

Reviews: marketing tools or critical evaluations?

Both. Perspective, as usual, is everything.
To traditional marketing professionals, an objective evaluation of the content of the product can be part of the marketing effort. Examples abound, but a quote pulled from Jon Landau's review of a Bruce Springsteen concert was used to promote the then unheard-of artist. It must be be noted, of course, that Springsteen later made Landau his manager.

But a favorable review is no guarantee of commercial success; in some ways it may even hinder popular acceptance by causing the effort to be dismissed as a cult favorite or something similar. Of course, that may also attract a different audience, too. Go figure.

Some reviewers serve as consumer reporters and provide purchasing advice, while others offer their own idiosyncratic opinions. Readers have to weigh current advice against previous recommendations. My brother and I agreed that a former newspaper movie reviewer's tastes were consistently the opposite of ours, so her reviews were quite useful. If she liked something, odds were that we wouldn't.

Critics, who tend to deal more in aesthetic and considerations rather than current commercial contexts are less useful for general marketing purposes. For the artist, however, their evaluations are far more valuable, since they often (but not always) eschew mere superficiality and contrivance. This emphasis on the cerebral rather than celebrity makes them less popular (and populist) by definition.

There's no answer or one right way to do things. But most professional writers are savvy enough to consider the medium they're writing for.

My book reviews are always written with the knowledge that newspaper readers want to know what's in it for them — literally and figuratively; business book reviews, especially. Though I'm mindful of elegant prose, good design and other substantive considerations, my gig is to answer to the question "Should I buy this or not?"

It need not be the focus of every critical evaluation but for a review in a daily newspaper, it's a must.

But unless the reviewer or critic is influential, the review is an optional element in marketing, though that doesn't stop the use of blurbs from what my aunt used to call tuchus lechers.

Online, it's a different world. But is everyone an expert? Hardly.

Just as traditional journalists (the MSM) bristle at the suggestion of any equivalency between what they do and what bloggers do, professional print critics are even more skeptical. Time magazine's Richard Schickel (pictured above) wrote: "I don't think it's impossible for bloggers to write intelligent reviews. I do think, however, that a simple 'love' of reading (or movie-going or whatever) is an insufficient qualification for the job."

Duh! But the fact is that some bloggers are, indeed, quite knowledgeable. As with anything else, no opinions should be accepted at face value.

And that creates new challenges for marketers. Just plain civilians, too.

But that's a whole 'nother discussion.

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