The copywriter's copywriter Andrew Boulton is an unscrupulous browser. Can Waterstones make a customer of him yet?
Working in marketing, the subject of the ‘impossible sale’ is one that often crops up. The benchmark case study has traditionally been that of ‘ice to Eskimos’. Other such examples could be anything from ‘forest-based lavatory facilities to bears’ to ‘seething moral indignation to Daily Mail readers'.
For me, the hardest target for even the most astute of marketing minds is to change the purchasing behaviour and attitude of the Waterstones ‘browser’.
For anyone unfamiliar with these particularly devious (though increasingly abundant) characters, they are the villains who prowl unashamedly amongst the bookshelves of Waterstones, select the titles that take their fancy and then stride boldly out of the shop to go home and order them from Amazon.
I know these scoundrels all too well as I, much to my discredit, am very much one of them.
Admittedly there are worse confessions to make. I am proud to say I have never flung a tiny puppy at a hungry owl. And I never give away the twist endings in films – if you ask me now why no one talks to Bruce Willis in ‘The Sixth Sense’ I will quite convincingly tell you that it’s merely because they all think he’s a nob.
But there is something inherently distasteful about using Waterstones as a mere showroom for selecting my future Amazon purchases. More concerning for Waterstones is that I appear to be one amongst an increasingly expanding army of unprofitable ‘browsers’.
I went so far as to conduct my own (thoroughly unscientific) experiment where I asked friends and family when was the last time they actually bought a book from Waterstones instead of Amazon. Although the results of my little test hardly rival the Hadron boys at Cern in terms of scientific rigour, they none-the-less revealed a noteworthy trend to support my theory.
Now, there are some who have argued, quite vociferously, that Waterstones themselves are an immoral corporate beast riding mercilessly over the independent bookseller. This may or may not be the case, but I know that if the day ever comes when Waterstones is forced from the highstreet by the devious thrift of me and my ilk I shall feel deeply ashamed.
Writing in The Guardian, Tim Waterstone himself once famously described the character of Amazon as ‘rude, contemptuous, arrogant and subversive’ – a potential strapline that some would say lacks the warmth of an ‘Every Little Helps’.
Mr Waterstone’s sentiments, though undeniably heartfelt, do not seem to be as widely felt in the consumer world, with a YouGov/BrandIndex poll published just last week declaring Amazon to now be the UK’s most highly rated consumer brand (stick that in your search engine, Google).
Even the current Waterstones business seems resigned to the unassailable supremacy of Amazon – their agreement to become a reseller for Amazon’s Kindle is as clear a statement of ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ as you’re ever likely to witness.
And yet when all is said and done, am I repelled enough by own sneakiness and how it is threatening a high street chain I am, by all accounts, rather fond of, to change my ways?
Quite frankly, no. I’d sooner save the extra four quid and put it towards the cost of a puppy. Which I will then fling at an owl. (As it turns out I’m a frightful cad.) Anyway, they deserve it for their appallingly cavalier attitude to apostrophes.
Oh, and by the way, if you happen to be reading this while watching ‘The Usual Suspects’, Kevin Spacey most definitely did NOT do it. Honest.
Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency
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