what if: marketing took the form of a novel?

A couple of weeks ago I wandered into a bookstore, and pounced with glee on a new Alain (Status Anxiety, Art of Travel, Pleasures and Sorrows of Work) de Botton book.

I turned it over in my hand. The slim little thing was called Heathrow Diary, and the back cover blurbed:

“If you were asked to take a Martian to visit a single place that captures all the themes running through the modern world – from our faith in technology to our destruction of nature, from our interconnectedness to our romanticising of travel – then you would almost certainly have to head to an airport. Airports, in all their turmoil, interest and beauty, are the imaginative centres of our civilisation.”

I love Alain de Botton. I was sold.

Later, though, having actually opened the book back at home, I realised I’d bought more than just another work of non-fiction.

The book is also a work of marketing, initiated by Heathrow Airport (through its PR agency Mischief London), who installed de Botton as ‘writer in residence’ over the UK Summer 2009. He spent a week in Terminal 5, with his own desk near the Air Canada gate, documenting the little stories, comedies, tragedies that usually tumble unnoticed through the busiest airport in the world.

Heathrow Diary, that is, was underwritten by the (big, bad) Heathrow corporation itself.

Is this wrong? Gawker certainly thinks so; others have predictably criticised the project as a desperate PR stunt.

But I reckon, why not?

Why should marketing and publishing be considered antithetical, as if one must be quarantined from the other? It seems silly to pretend that brands, advertising and marketing in all its forms aren’t  just as much a part of culture as the more validly ‘intellectual’ pursuits of artists, musicians, architects, and writers.

In fact, as de Botton notes, that whole conceptual division is a relatively recent invention, a romantic construction of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Before that, commercial patronage was how Shakespeare’s plays got written. It was responsible for some of Mozart’s symphonies and da Vinci’s paintings.

And like the airport itself – its intermingling of something poetic and profound, the “mysterious forces of fate,” with the workaday world of business –   Heathrow Diary is no less fascinating or incisive for its commercial scaffolding.

Bring on more, I say.

The Sydney Opera House Symphony, or Vegemite – The Musical.

Why not?


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