Popular Approval

From social media to marketing campaigns to commercials on TV, popular approval is considered its own endorsement for a product. What more could an author ask for than to see their name or their book trending on social media? It elevates their profile significantly; potentially thousands of people who haven’t heard of them or their work will be aware of them simply because they are a popular topic of discussion on a given day on Twitter.

We’re all familiar with the subtle and not-so-subtle peer pressure components of marketing. Remember watching the ‘water cooler’ shows on Thursdays so you wouldn’t feel left out of the office chit chat at work the next day? What, you didn’t watch Friends? Seinfeld? Mad About You? What’s wrong with you?

Working from home eliminates the water cooler pressure for me, and streaming has undoubtedly undermined the effectiveness of ‘must see TV’ marketing. With the blessing of DVR technology comes the down side; the same amount of people no longer have that shared viewing experience in real time, which means that the impact of an episode resembles a trickle rather than a flood.

Books have always had a delayed response, scattered widely over time. Some people wait for a copy to be available at their library. Others order the book when it goes on sale. Some hold out for different versions, such as trade paperback, to be available, instead of purchasing the hardcovers.

And yet, in spite of the obstacles that authors face when striving for popular approval, there are some ways to secure it. Become a NY Times Bestseller. Sign a movie deal. Be featured on a late night talk show. Remember when Oprah’s Book Club could make an author famous practically overnight? No matter what mechanisms for marketing are still in place, a popularity drive remains in place for those products that rise and have mainstream appeal. Think Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Star Wars.

When something or someone is popular, liking the product is approved. There’s an inherent acceptance that comes with being part of the mainstream. You’re normal. You have good taste. You fit in. Liking this book/movie/music/TV show gives you a sense of belonging.

Many years ago, when Patrick was young, a boy started talking to him at the park. This other boy loved Pokémon, and was talking to Patrick about his favorites. Patrick, who wasn’t a Pokémon fan and didn’t know anything about it (heck, I worked with kids in 1999 who loved Pokémon, and probably remembered more about it than Patrick ever knew), agreed with the boy’s assessments and opinions.

He could offer enthusiastic support for all of the boy’s picks and perspectives and be part of the conversation without knowing what he was talking about at all just by supporting what was the stated popular opinion in that scenario.

Conversely, there’s a contingent of people who express disapproval for mainstream products. On any given day you can go on social media and find declarations by those who’ve proudly never watched a Game of Thrones episode, who’ve abstained from all Harry Potter books and movies. Lack of approval for what has been commercially successful gives some (not all) people a sense of superiority; a belief that they’re enlightened enough to not succumb to the sheep-like followers who flock to box office success stories.

Approving Products That Are Mediocre or Average

Popular approval does not mean a product is good. There are some shows and movies that become popular and remain popular, but aren’t necessarily sophisticated. I mean, Friends is basically a show about bullying the smart guy into being less smart and more cool.

Approving Products With Superior Quality

Popular approval also does not mean a product isn’t good. Popular approval can and has been bestowed on works in all mediums that are truly exceptional. 

Artists and Popular Culture

Abstaining from popular culture has drawbacks for artists. In order to understand what appeals to today’s audiences it helps to know what they’re reading, watching or listening to. 

It’s Okay To Be Different

You do not have to like what everyone else likes. They also do not need to like everything you like, either. Part of the reason that there is room in the market for a wide range of artists is because there are things that have niche appeal. There are mainstream stories and there are stories that target a specific audience. Neither is good or bad; they are simply different. 

Celebrate What You Like

Whether you’re reading the current bestsellers or works that aren’t well known, whether you’re watching the blockbusters or the sleeper hits, share. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, and sometimes, people are looking for a leader to give them permission to acknowledge their interests as well.

There’s a joy that comes with discovering that the small press gem you’ve discovered is a favorite work by a friend. It’s great to find other people who share your interests and to be able to talk intelligently about the works that appeal to you.

And your support for what you truly love may make the difference between an artist continuing to produce or throwing in the towel.

Popular approval is great for making money, and there’s nothing wrong with a product having widespread appeal. Any author who tells you they don’t want to be a bestseller is lying. But there’s nothing wrong with writing a celebrated work that may not be liked by millions but will be deeply loved by thousands. And if those lesser known works appeal to you, there’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t ever be afraid to go against the grain and talk about what you really enjoy, whether it’s popular or not.