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.
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:
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.