Emanuel Rosen is an enthusiast. Or so it would seem, judging by the breathless first-person Californian style of his book The Anatomy of Buzz.
What he is enthusiastic about is the power of word-of-mouth, which he calls 'buzz'. He asserts that marketers are insufficiently aware of buzz and provides many examples of products that have benefited from it. Not surprisingly, in every case he cites, the buzz has been prompted by marketers.
A paradox, but not one that Rosen chooses to address or even acknowledge.
Elsewhere, he advises that products with inherent appeal will generate buzz in a way that advertising and PR cannot emulate. He tells readers how product placement in blockbuster movies can really stimulate buzz.
He shows how scarcity can increase desire. And he solemnly declares that 'people tend to interact with others who are similar to them.' These, and countless similar examples of the bloody obvious, are scattered throughout the book and presented as though they were, if not breakthrough revelations, at least original thought.
But his greatest enthusiasm is reserved for the internet. He foresees consumer networks exchanging information to pressurise marketers so that only the best products and services will prevail. He does not adequately explain why these networks will have any greater impact on the practices of commercial companies than the consumer research they already use. Nor does he identify product areas where consumers are being ripped off. But adequate explanation, or support for his assertions, is not Rosen's forte. His preference is for spurious diagrams and cutesy reminiscences from his childhood, adolescence and brief career.
The pity of it is that the subject matter of the book could be made interesting, as anyone ploughing through the dross will discover. The processes that lead to word-of-mouth success are subtle, well understood and certainly worthy of a book. If The Anatomy of Buzz were two-thirds shorter and written by someone else it could find an audience.
It may even find one anyway. As things stand, much evidence suggests that the internet creates markets for crap. Rather more indeed than there is to support Rosen's belief that it will act as a positive force in the battle to raise standards. Will the buzz on the internet boost sales of this book or confine it to the oblivion it so clearly deserves? I have an uneasy feeling it may turn out to be the former.