Sorry, guys—I’ve been out of commission for the last week while writing a paper for my book marketing course at BU. I’m writing about book trailers, and whether or not they’re effective marketing tools.
One book trailer that definitely impacted book sales is Rob Bell’s trailer for Love Wins (published by HarperOne). It was released five weeks before the book’s original on-sale date, and when it was, it ignited a national controversy. Watch it, and you’ll see why.
Gospel Coalition blogger (and vice president of editorial at Crossway) Justin Taylor was one of the first to catch wind of the trailer, and he responded with a post that called Bell a universalist—someone who believes that all humans end up in heaven, and hell is not a physical place. (What this basically amounts to is an accusation of heresy, a breaking from orthodoxy.) Within 24 hours, 12,000 people recommended Taylor’s post and “Rob Bell” became one of the top 10 trending topics on Twitter. As this social media firestorm erupted, prominent evangelicals began weighing in, expressing either anger or disappointment at the theological stance Bell takes … in the trailer! (Remember, the book has yet to be released at this point.) “Farewell, Rob Bell,” John Piper tweeted. And then a counter-wave of support came crashing in from the more liberal-leaning Christians, who applauded Bell for addressing these hard questions.
Some have predicted that the debate over the issue of hell will lead to the next major split in the church (the last one was the Reformation). HarperOne knew that Love Wins was going to cause a major stir; that’s why they paid Bell a six-figure advance, bidding out five other publishers. When an influential megachurch pastor comes out and says that hell is empty and that those who reject Jesus will still end up in heaven, because God is love, that’s bound to cause a reaction of epic proportions.
Mark Tauber, senior vice president and publisher at HarperOne, told CNN that the controversy is unlike anything else he has seen in the religion category of books. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this amount of anticipation,” Tauber said. The topic of Bell’s book became such a hot one that HarperOne advanced the book’s on-sale date by two weeks, to March 15.
From a marketing perspective, this trailer was genius—its content, its timing, its placement. It was meant to provoke, and boy did it ever. It instantly secured Bell national media attention, as major news outlets requested interviews with him, and launched him to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. So, as a case study for my paper, the Love Wins trailer was a definite success, well-worth the money spent on it.
I have not read the book, though I do plan to eventually, so I am not going to comment on it, but I do see that the trailer alone is enough to cause Christians to question Rob Bell’s doctrinal foundations. That’s why I don’t think that the bloggers were too hasty in their criticisms (at least not most of them), and the majority commendably read through the book once it was made available to them, responding later in greater and more informed detail, and correcting themselves if they were wrong in their prejudgments.