Brilliant! HarperCollins turns to debauchery

On a dark and stormy night last month, HarperCollins hosted a most unusual book launch for Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist. Guests were lured down a dark alleyway and directed down a steep, uninviting staircase leading to a faux gentleman's club, featuring scantily clad pole dancers gyrating provocatively in the dimly lit converted warehouse.

On a dark and stormy night last month, HarperCollins hosted a most unusual book launch for Richard Flanagan’s The Unknown Terrorist. Guests were lured down a dark alleyway and directed down a steep, uninviting staircase leading to a faux gentleman’s club, featuring scantily clad pole dancers gyrating provocatively in the dimly lit converted warehouse.

The launch promo aimed to achieve a multi-faceted goal: to generate media buzz, grab the attention of elusive 18-34 male readers and reinforce HarperCollins’ position as a marketing innovation leader in the book category.

‘This kind of marketing is not untried by other categories but it is largely untried by book publishers. We really like to lead in our category,’ explains Rob Firing, director of publicity at Toronto-based HarperCollins Canada.

HarperCollins asked Toronto online style and lifestyle advisory group XYYZ for help with the launch. The site, edited by author Russell Smith and published by ad veteran Peter Coish, sends out daily e-mails to a list of over 6,000 Toronto men. Firing credits Coish with getting partners like Drambuie, Molson Pilsner and Flirty Girl Fitness (which supplied the pole dancers) on board.

‘We design our book launches to follow the themes in the book. In this case, the protagonist is a stripper. The themes point to societal degradation and debauchery,’ says Firing. ‘We wanted [the launch] to be underground and have a feeling of danger.’

HarperCollins publicist Melissa Nowakowski co-ordinated the event. Despite the foul weather, the launch attracted a full house of 200 attendees, and scored press coverage from The Toronto Star.