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The The Not-So-Fine Line Between Marketing and Pandering

The The Not-So-Fine Line Between Marketing and Pandering

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As artists, we often times struggle with the question of integrity. I went to an art school (SCAD) that received a lot of criticism from other fine arts schools because it put a focus on being able to make a living with your skills. Professors followed the idea that it does not matter how much effort you put in if your art was not successful and every major had at least one required course in portfolio, auditioning, or marketing. Theater majors learned to produce a show from the front desk side of things as well as how to present themselves at an audition. As an animator, my brother had a course completely dedicated to portfolio work.

To artists, this idea of selling work is anathema. We don’t want to think about that side of things, because we don’t want to be labeled “sell-outs.” I’m here to tell you that marketing is not selling and that it certainly does not have to be pandering.

Marketing is NOT Selling

Selling is converting products into cash. Having a shop where you sell your work (like an Etsy store or a listing on Amazon.com) is not the same as marketing. Marketing is converting customers wants and needs into products. It is creating and environment where the right people can easily find your solution to their problem. Money is just a fortunate biproduct of that process. Marketing is so much bigger than sales and advertising. It is targeting your customers and leading them to the product they want or need.

Marketing is NOT Selling-Out

A sell-out is someone who creates their work without any artistic integrity, solely based on what will be popular with the masses. Targeting the audience for your work, then, is by definition the opposite of selling-out. That is the difference between marketing and pandering. Marketers target the specific audience for the products they have already created. Panderers create products specifically for mass appeal.

Marketing is Necessary

It might be enough for products with mass appeal (AA batteries, chocolate cookies, Snuggies, etc.) to have a spot on a shelf. For niche products, products that are not designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, this is not enough. Niche products don’t get to rely on a surge of sales at the get-go. They have to find their buyers. They need to do that by identifying what appeal their product has and to whom. Niche products need to figure out how find that audience with that  tailored that message and not waste money and effort on the kinds of people who won’t buy it.

Example: If you write a spicy romance novel, chances are you don’t want to get your artist friend to put childish cartoon characters on the cover. You really would not want to advertise on Facebook to fans of The New York Jets or keyword your book “children” or solicit reviews from video game sites.

We might not all be in it to get rich, but we have to make something for it to be worth the next endeavor. If you ever want to do your art full time, or even part time, you need to make some money. Authors– cover designs, web pages, Red Bulls, and computers all cost money. If you cannot at least begin to cover your expenses because you are too proud to market, then you are doing yourself a disservice.

You Are Already Marketing

When you decide on the price of your book, keeping in mind how much the people who might actually enjoy reading it can afford, you are marketing. You are targeting your audience based on their spending habits and abilities.

Titles and cover art– the packaging of your novel– are marketing. Your social media profile is marketing.

Make what you want to make and say what you want to say, then don’t be ashamed to promote it! The next time you worry that reaching your target audience is pandering, remember: Tailoring your PR and advertising to the ideal audience for your product is marketing. Tailoring your product to an audience with a lot of money is pandering. It really isn’t that hard to tell the difference.

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  • Missy Kirtley

    I love the definitions that I gleaned from this article:

    marketing: finding a target audience for your product, and making it easy for them to find you/buy the product
    selling: providing a product for an audience in exchange for money
    selling out: creating/changing your product in an attempt to appeal to a mass audience

    I think there’s a difference between “changing your product for greater appeal” and “creating a product solely to appeal to a mass audience.” I think as we grow and learn as artists, we can learn tricks and tools to better our craft, and some of those may include aspects that will appeal to a wider audience. I think that’s different from selling out, though.

    • nimbuschick

      Definitely. You can make your art better. It’s when you change your art (its meaning, its integrity) for mass appeal that you sell out.

  • A sellout is somebody who changes their core principles in exchange for profit or popularity.

    Marketing is the process of finding the audience for a product which already exists and encouraging them to give it a try.

    These are not the same concept. If you profit while remaining true to your principles, then no- you are not a sellout. Unless your core principle is to subsist on a diet of grass clippings and ramen for the rest of your life.