'The Lost Symbol': an America's Hottest Brands Case Study

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'The Lost Symbol'
Get readers the internet over to decode clues and puzzles surrounding the latest from Dan Brown since "The Da Vinci Code," but meanwhile, lock up the first run of the novel so tightly that no one but Matt Lauer can get their hands on an advance copy.

That was the formula for stirring up mass intrigue around the release of "The Lost Symbol" this fall and, eventually, for selling 3.5 million copies a mere five weeks after launch.

With 81 million copies of Mr. Brown's first smash hit "The Da Vinci Code" sold worldwide and two films starring Tom Hanks based on his books, it's fair to say that "The Lost Symbol" was a highly anticipated release, especially since it's four years late. The task for publishing house Knopf Doubleday was to remind readers why they loved Dan Brown when they first read him in 2003.

"Part of the strategy was a big online push and to reacquaint readers with the fun of Dan Brown," said Suzanne Herz, the publicist and director of marketing for the title.

To push the publisher's first print of 5 million copies -- a record for parent Random House -- Doubleday tapped New York-based interactive agency Special Ops Media to recreate Dan Brown's world of codes and mysteries in a multi-property puzzle and decoder game online.

Not among the select few allowed to read the book, Special Ops had to build the world of trivia and puzzle games with only Mr. Brown's previous books for reference. Riddles, word games and symbol-decoding tasks were released on Twitter, Facebook and "Lost Symbol's" website, and they were also pushed to booksellers' web properties. Barnes & Noble and Borders posted puzzles on their own sites and drove readers to answer them on Dan Brown's Facebook page. This effort relied heavily on social-media platforms and earned Mr. Brown more than 100,000 friends on Facebook and almost 5,000 followers on Twitter.

"When 'The Da Vinci Code' came out, Facebook and Twitter were not part of the landscape," Ms. Herz said. "So this time, we had brand new avenues."

Suzanne Herz
Suzanne Herz, senior VP publishing, Knopf Doubleday
While readers were scrambling to piece together clues about the upcoming release, Doubleday fed hype about how highly guarded "Lost Symbol" copies were up until launch. Weeks before, Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos posted a note on the e-tailer's homepage about "Lost Symbol," what he called "one of the most anticipated publishing events of all time."

"We've agreed to keep our stockpile under 24-hour guard in its own chain-link enclosure, with two locks requiring two separate people for entry," Mr. Bezos wrote.

The "Today Show's" Matt Lauer was given an advance copy, and for one week Mr. Lauer reported from locations in the book. Ms. Herz speculates that the NBC package, which also included Mr. Lauer interviewing Mr. Brown one month after launch, was probably the most airtime a novel has ever received on TV.

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