‘Memphis Rocks,’ but Mid-South publisher’s marketing stinks

Excerpt of the front cover of the book "Memphis Rocks."

Ron Hall & Sherman Willmott’s “Memphis Rocks: A Concert History, 1955-1985” is by multiple accounts an excellent book, but it is not currently and never has been a New York Times best-seller as Willmott’s company, Shangri-La Projects, has repeatedly claimed on social media.

“OMG!! Memphis Rocks made the NYT Bestsellers list 1st week out!!! #MemphisRocks,” the @ShangrilaProjex Twitter account tweeted on Nov. 3, along with what appears to be a screen capture of the list:

11/3/2014 tweet by @ShangrilaProjex.

Less than 30 minutes later, “Thank you so much, America! The Nielson Ratings are in and Memphis Rocks made the New York Time Bestseller list 1st week out!!!! #MemphisRocks” was posted to the Shangri-La Projects Facebook page:

Screen capture of post promoting "Memphis Rocks" on the Shangri-La Projects Facebook page.

Note Shangri-La added a “parody alert” comment to the Facebook post on Nov. 7 after I began drawing attention to the company’s deceptive marketing practices. Shangri-La (ostensibly Willmott, the company’s principal) began hiding behind this half-baked parody defense only after I notified a New York Times senior editor of the Memphis company’s dubious marketing claim.

I first simply advised Shangri-La the picture they posted was a hoax, thinking someone had probably created it as a joke and they’d inadvertently mistaken it for reality.

Shangri-La Projects’ reply? “Checked w a buddy who works @ internet-he said if it was on both twitter & internet was prob. something wrong w your fact checking.” That’s when I concluded the Mid-South publisher was purposefully engaging in deceptive marketing, as any reasonable person would.

You can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater

The problem with Shangri-La claiming their fake New York Times best-sellers list picture was a parody rather than what it really was — a lame attempt at viral marketing for “Memphis Rocks” — is in the presentation. The photo itself might be considered parody, but the presentation is completely devoid of any appreciable social or literary commentary on the original work being lampooned: the vaunted New York Times best-sellers list.

The majority of Shangri-La Projects’ few social media followers who engaged with the post appeared to believe its purported legitimacy. At least one of those users has since deleted all of their own social-media references to the “Memphis Rocks” book’s bogus achievement and admitted to being suckered.

If a reasonable person, much less a media-savvy one, can mistake your “joke” for truth and the only point of that joke is to sell a product, that’s not parody — it’s deceptive advertising, and it’s illegal.

The “Memphis Rocks” case serves as a valuable reminder of two very important business tenets for small-business owners: 1) Be smart in crafting your marketing initiatives, especially in online marketing, and 2) Never, ever allow your customer service focus to lapse.

Shangri-La Projects accused me of having no sense of humor, but in this case the joke’s on them — I was planning on buying “Memphis Rocks” until their smarmy reply to my well-intentioned first contact.

I'm a Mid-South photojournalist, Kentucky writer and digital media consultant (or eNinja™). Circle me on Google Plus at Plus.BillySuratt.com, follow me on Twitter at @surattb and Instagram me at @BillySuratt. Got a news tip or suggestion about some journalism that needs committed? Email blog@billysuratt.com (discretion is always guaranteed).

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