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Slogans including ‘Our readers come first,’ are part of a campaign launched Monday to promote the publisher’s erotic fiction.


Is that a Penguin in your pocket?

The publisher that first tried to get into readers' pants with its pocket classics is experimenting with some saucy ads. People who board the transit system in Toronto or pick up Hello! Canada will be exposed to a series of wink-wink jokes, in a reflection of just how important the erotic fiction segment has become to Penguin's business.

Slogans including "Our readers come first," and "Pleasure yourshelf" are part of a campaign launched Monday to promote the publisher's erotic fiction, including the newest instalment of the Crossfire series of books.

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It's a continuation of Penguin's efforts to capitalize on the popularity of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, which was a smash hit for Random House.

"It's been good for publishing in general," said Beth Lockley, executive vice-president of marketing and publicity for Penguin Group (Canada). "These big phenomena, what they do is generate interest and make people want to look for something similar. … It's something that you want to respond to. You don't want to sit back and let someone else ride that bandwagon."

Penguin's marketing push along these lines began in July, when the first Crossfire book, Bared to You, was released. It started a Twitter campaign with the hash tag #50shadeshotter, to get people talking about how titillating its own books were compared with the E.L. James blockbusters. The second book, Reflected in You, launched last week. Penguin Canada has shipped more than 270,000 copies of the two books in the series so far.

The current campaign includes more than 300 transit ads in Toronto, national print advertising in Hello! Canada and Ontario-based GO Transit's On the Go magazine, and 13,200 spots running on a digital screen in Toronto's Union station through the month of November. The company is testing the transit ads in Toronto – which also include signs above doors saying "Get off here" – and if the reaction is good, it plans to expand the campaign more heavily nationwide.

Companies like Penguin do not have the media dollars for billboards or television ads, but it is possible to run a Facebook or Twitter campaign to get people talking for much less. The current budget for the campaign is more than $30,000, Ms. Lockley said, a small sum. That means she is counting on stoking online word-of-mouth.

To do that, Penguin is challenging readers to come up with their own naughty slogans, and post them on Facebook. Some bookshops are getting involved as well to promote the contest.

Ms. Lockley said she believes consumers are ready for a bit more of a humorous edge in book advertising. A couple of years ago, publishers began to notice how e-readers were helping to boost sales of romance novels – partly because people riding the subway were able to engage in a guilty pleasure without having to display the cover of their book.

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But according to Ms. Lockley, the success of Fifty Shades has allowed readers to be more open about their fondness for erotic fiction, and marketing it with jokes about arousal is easier to do.

"It's a departure from the tone in marketing that you normally see from publishers in Canada," she said. "Certainly from us."

And the erotic fiction segment will soon become even more important to Penguin, as it plans for a merger that would see it come under the same corporate ownership as 50 Shades of Grey publisher Random House. On Monday, its U.K.-based parent Pearson PLC confirmed it plans to merge with Germany's Bertelsmann, owner of Random House. The joint venture will be called Penguin Random House, pending regulatory approvals.

Fifty Shades sold more than 30 million copies between its release in March and June. It's still a long way off shattering records such as for sales of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, but those figures do make it the fastest-selling book out of the gate, Ms. Lockley said.

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