Barnes & Noble has been using a lot of celebrities to ‘boost their street cred’ lately. Unfortunately for me, there is nothing more cringe-worthy than seeing a video of Justin Bieber—being played over and over again on a loop—blasting out from a big screen TV behind my local Barnes & Noble’s Nook display. “Yo what’s up ‘yall! Check out my [second] memoir [even though I am only 16] on the new Nook HD!”
I wonder: is B&N really trying to make the Nook hip by pairing it with famous faces? Is there a sound reason for them to be going the celebrity endorsement route?
Nook executives have always knocked Amazon for their subtle banner and sleep-screen advertisements, but don’t think that they haven’t found “annoying” ways to mix in their own brand of special offers with the Nook experience, just not on their device’s lock-screens.
While Amazon has chosen to go with credit card ads, discount coupons, and upcoming movie announcements, B&N has gotten a few actors, authors, and musicians to take part in promotional videos and TV spots. As a side note, one thing I’ve noticed is that they have totally forgotten that they even sell E Ink eReaders anymore. All of their star power (including James Patterson) is now being used to promote their latest tablets. Perhaps this is the reason why the Nook Simple Touch has been reported as selling so badly.
In my opinion, these resulting advertisements haven’t turned out too well.
A number of people, including Nate Hoffelder at The-Digital-Reader.com, have been ripping on Microsoft’s Surface video ads for being high on flash low on content, but I would like to shine a light on some of the lackluster—even cheesy—B&N videos that have been released over the past year. I’m not sure that this is a direction that will really bolster the the Nook brand. All of the videos I have seen, while they tend to be a bit more informative than those done by Microsoft, really fall flat. Microsoft recently bought into B&N, so perhaps their bad TV commercial ideas have carried over as a part of the merge.
I first noticed the Nook/celebrity connection when Jane Lynch (aka the menacing coach Sue Sylvester from the popular television series Glee) made a couple of very Glee-esque song-and-dance TV ads for the Nook Tablet shortly after it was launched in fall 2011. This commercial must have aired thousands of times between Thanksgiving and Christmas; it seemed like every time I turned on the tube, there she was, spinning a Nook Tablet on the end of her finger like a basketball while being hurled into the air by a contingent of male cheerleaders. Unlike the new Surface ads, Jane Lynch did go into some detail about the functionality of the tablet itself and its available content. Most prominently featured was the line about in-store Nook customer support being “allllwayyys freeeeee!” Practical, catchy, but just a little annoying. Here is an ad that didn’t make it onto TV. It’s two minutes and thirteen seconds of bad acting and camp that looks like it was shot on a cellphone. Really B&N? “No annoying ads”?
Since then, a variety of stars have come forward to promote the Nook line, mostly appearing in advertisements like the Bieber pitch I mentioned above. Showing on a large TV behind the Nook desk, these ads usually consist of short vignettes where the chosen celeb talks about their third-rate, ghostwritten memoir or cookbook that they easily got a Big Six publisher to print, along with a quick mention of how the hapless viewer should pick up the device in front of them and give it a try. The Nook usually ends up being a barely-mentioned part of the promotion.
The nookBN YouTube account just released the above Tony Bennett video on December 7th, and I thought I shouldn’t be the only one to suffer through its failed mix of Nook technology and celebrity commercialism. The 86-year-old crooner is filmed with someone who appears to be a standard Nook desk representative who introduces him (for the first time?) to the Nook HD. He is shown how his new memoir, Life is a Gift, looks on the latest B&N tablet offering; he swipes through a few pages, he makes a few wizened-elder remarks like:
It’s a whole new world. I think it’s unbelievable what’s goin’ on. I can’t get over how much it does, actually. This is such a great instrument (?). They really came up with something on this. I love it. Beautiful! It’s very entertaining and very educational for everybody . . .
Then he confusingly seems to offer a criticism of the whole concept of eReading when he proclaims:
It’s never going to stop people just reading books.
From that statement, I assume he is talking about real, made-out-of-paper physical books. Perhaps he heard that the hardback book was dead, or that eBook prices and tablets were undercutting physical book sales to the point of extinction. After being given a chance to try out the Nook HD in person, it looks like he was unimpressed. He certainly wasn’t going to stop reading physical books just because of this shiny new toy.
What kind of imprimatur did Bennett’s celebrity really lend this new device? He had obviously never even laid eyes on a Nook HD before, so B&N can’t really trot him out as a dedicated, card-carrying Nook user. When Amazon.com had Steven King (who had just put out a novella exclusively through the Kindle Store) announce at the Kinde 2 release conference that he would be signing on to do Kindle-only eBooks, you could tell that he really enjoyed using the device and that he was knowledgeable about the new technology. In this ad, the great Tony Bennett might as well have just stumbled upon a Nook display when he walked through the doors of Barnes & Noble, made a few stereotypical older person remarks about technology, and bid them farewell.
Just showing a bunch of random celebrities holding your new tablet isn’t going to put the Nook on the trophy shelf of popular culture. I don’t begrudge B&N for trying to stay relevant with a few celebrity endorsements, but from all of the ads I’ve seen, I don’t think it is really helping their cause.