Really Bad Book, Really Well Sold

Don't panic! This is not going to be yet another latter-day analysis of Dan Brown's DA VINCI CODE. Well, ok, part of it will be. But what I am actually going to write about in this month's column is the omni-media approach to entertainment, or, how to take an existing idea, write a really bad book about it, and get really rich.

First let me say, in case you haven't already read between the in-absolutely-no-way-disguised lines, I did not think THE DA VINCI CODE was a very good book. I'd actually like to come up with a new term for this type of writing – it really does not deserve the tem "book," as it is somewhere between a screenplay and a book. It's too simple and visual to be, strictly speaking, a novel. And since it is not constructed that way, it does not deserve to be called a screenplay. The dialog is far too bad to qualify as a play. What it does have a a) a plot and b) a conspiracy theory. Voila! A best seller.

Now I'll make a confession. I was actually a very early reader of this book – before it had been "noticed." I have always been intrigued by the legends of the Knights Templar, and I had years ago ready HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL. I had even played a computer game years before THAT called Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Damned, which tells exactly the same story. In fact, in this game, Gabriel Knight (the hero of our story), is employed to search for the kidnapped infant descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalen. (The point being, the "theory" of Mary Magdalen and the Grail is anything but new and ground-breaking.)

In fact, I even mentioned this book to people at the time I was reading it, but mostly because of the truly fascinating references to Leonardo DaVinci and his codes and other strange and ingenious inventions. As a side note, Brown does a much better job with the factual history of DaVinci than he does with the more esoteric, and theological, themes in his book.

I really wanted to like the book, but I found it almost unreadable in terms of dialog (see my review of THE THIRD SECRET by Steve Berry for all the scathing commentary on very bad writing, especially dialog); laughably inaccurate in terms of history and the Catholic Church; and sit-com silly in terms of character development.

So, if it's a really bad book, and everybody else and his cross-eyed brother is writing a review of it, why am I wasting my time? Because aside from having a cinematic, juggernaut of a plot that rightly deserves to be praised, this is one of the best marketed books of all time. In fact, it's not a book – it's an empire.

I remember when I first noticed that movie-makers had an easy sell for movie-related merchandise. My sister went to see some drippingly romantic movie when she was about thirteen. They sold keepsake books in the theatre, rich with photographs of the actors in promotional poses, over which she day-dreamed and drooled for several months.

Eventually, whole product lines were created out of movies, culminating with placements of collectible items in the movie itself as a kind of wry advertisement for the movie's own merchandise.

When I looked online, out of idle curiosity, for Dan Brown and THE DAVINCI CODE while reading the book, I found an odd website that essentially lead me on a merry chase playing an immersive game (I had to make phone calls, send emails, look up words on certain pages of the book) that coincidentally gathered demographic information about me, generated website hits and emails, not to mention the phone call, all of which gathered sales momentum for the book.

You can still visit the game site:, which has been augmented by yet another, Uncover the Code game (, which is bound to gather yet more information about how many folks are buying the book, and who they are. In fact, the whole game is about studying the cover of Dan's book to discover clues about his next best-seller!

But there's more! Soon the illustrated novel came out. Then The DaVinci Code Audio Book. In The DaVinci Code Travel Journal you can retrace Robert Langdon's steps as he searches hither and yon for the clues the reader has figured out ten chapters before he gets there. And I can't even begin to estimate how many books have been written "deciphering" Dan Brown's DA VINCI CODE.

There are T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, and we learn from that "Google has teamed with Sony Pictures Entertainment's Columbia Pictures to create a puzzle-themed 24-day contest for the studio's upcoming "Da Vinci Code" film. The program, which lets people opt-in to see contest updates on their personalized Google home pages, exemplifies the publisher's efforts to take its relationships with marketers beyond paid search ads.

"This is really something new for us and we're looking to do maybe a handful of these a year," Dylan Casey, brand and entertainment manager for Google, told ClickZ. "It's something we're interested in pursuing to see how we can interact with our users and get some feedback as to how Google works as a platform for these types of initiatives."

When users opt-in to add the "Da Vinci Code Quest on Google" module to their home pages, each day they see a link to a different puzzle. Once solved, each puzzle introduces a riddle that calls for the player to use Google Search, Google Maps, Google SMS or Google Video. Agency Big Spaceship worked with Google and Sony on the look and feel of the puzzles and microsite elements. The contest is aimed at audiences in the \nU.S., the U.K. and Australia. The film, starring Tom Hanks, debuts in the U.S. on May 19."

You can take a 1.5 hour guided walk of London, the DaVinci Code Walk , in which you explore some of the key London locations of the novel. The walk leaves daily from Trafalgar Square.

Brown has been sued at least three times for plagiarism, and you begin to wonder if THAT'S not part of the sales scheme as well, the suits coming as they did only shortly before the release of the movie (he was sued by fellow Random House writers Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL; he is being sued by a Russian writer/art historian who claims the notion that Leonardo's LAST SUPPER was an allegory for the Christian Church was his idea; he is being sued by writer Lewis Perdue who says he already wrote that book in 1983).

What's left? Well, part of the buzz on the movie is that the constant, fretful fussing of the Christian community is doing more to promote the movie (by virtue of all the discussion) than to prevent its being seen. To turn a phrase on its head, Dan Brown omni-media can't lose for winning.

Coming soon: The Harvard Case Study of Hyper-Marketing Tripe. And making far more money than you deserve.


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