Recently, the ‘internet marketing’ community was buzz with a huge hoax masterminded by Frank Kern – I won’t go into it in this post, but you can read about it over at – Don Fleece, Traffic Mysteries, Confessions and Reality or on the Frank Kern Shenanigans Facebook Group.
Anyway… it got me thinking about a huge hoax that began as a practical joke by late-night radio raconteur Jean Shepherd in the mid-1950s. Shepherd was highly annoyed at the way that the bestseller lists were being compiled at the time.
Unlike today, these lists at the time were not determined only on sales figures, but also on requests for new books at bookstores.
Shepherd urged his listeners to enter bookstores across the USA, and ask for a book that did not exist. He fabricated an author, Frederick R. Ewing, concocted a title, ‘I, Libertine’, and outlined a basic plot for his listeners to use on skeptical or confused bookstore clerks.
Shepherd eventually proved his point, as the ‘fictional book’ became a bestseller. (See the play on words I used there – not only was it a ‘fiction book’, but the book itself was fictional by nature – I really should be a comedian.)
“It all started when I got into a discussion one day about people who pretend to know everything,” Shepherd wrote later in the Voice. “We thought it would be a good gag to undermine their faith by creating a demand for something that didn’t even exist. We dreamed up the name and the author on the spot.”
I recently came across an interview where the crazy tale is recounted in Jean Shepherd’s own words on Long John Nebel’s radio show from 1968 – it’s well worth a listen; as it has nothing to do with marketing, yet everything to do with marketing.