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9 April, 2005

How not to promote a band

It's only natural that fans of 'Band A' will wish to share the discovery of a similar band, 'Band B', with fellow 'Band A' fans.  A brief mention in a discussion forum frequented by 'Band A' fans is fine. However, when that expands to repeated mentions, in terms that feel more like dispassionate marketing than genuine fan enthusiasm, one becomes suspicious.

An important part of 'word of mouth' marketing is that recommendations need to come from a person one already knows and trusts. Cynical marketing is obvious when the recommendations come from a username no-one recognises, which hasn't previously been a participant in conversations about 'Band A'. It's even more blatent when every message from that username contains a link to the website of 'Band B' (I don't just mean a .sig) and often also a bandwidth-heavy cover image of their album. Apart from anything else, it's simply in bad taste to exploit a potential competitor's forum to sell 'Band B' in this way.

Viral marketing happens, and I don't entirely condemn it, but it's not easy, and done this badly, it can only have negative impacts. Discovered in a genuine manner (or in a seemingly genuine manner, a marketer having subtlely brought 'Band B' to one's attention then let the product sell itself), perhaps one might like 'Band B's music, but if one merely associates their name with hard-sell, one is immediately hostile and less receptive to their music.

So it has been with 'King Bathmat', an otherwise unknown band frequently pushed at Porcupine Tree fans via the old official P-Tree forum and subsequently at the unofficial successor P-Tree forum. King Bathmat were repeatedly touted as similar to Porcupine Tree, though those who didn't immediately see through the trick and actually followed the proffered link reported back that any alleged similarity was grossly exaggerated, if even remotely true. The collective conclusion was that the advertising was not only offensive but downright false.

There was a lingering doubt that this over-promotion was merely the actions of a misguided King Bathmat fan, and that perhaps the band shouldn't be blamed. However, a couple of days ago I received precisely the same style of message via a direct spam e-mail, from a supposedly professional public relations firm – this is no over-enthusiastic fan, it's deliberate, if clumsy, marketing.

I have a personal policy: I never have anything to do with a company which sends unsolicited communications. If a double-glazing firm rings or writes to me offering their services, it does simplify any future purchasing decisions: that company will be disqualified – there's no chance that I'd consider giving them my custom. Hence, whether King Bathmat are the best band ever, or not (and P-Tree fans generally say "not"), I'm not interested in even sampling them.

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