Many how-to books promise a secret formula for success. Suggestions with titles like The Ten Steps to Better Business or Seven Stages of Successful Planning offer the illusion that reaching a massive audience with your art, product, or service is just behind a magic door. While they assure the highs, few marketing and business books deliver the honest lows quite like Marc Eckō. His book, Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out, traces his stormy rise with sincerity and down-to-earth wit.
Each chapter bears a pseudo-formula for executing the theme of that chapter – Eckō’s stab at conventional business-building models that taut easy fixes and quick answers. Whether discussing key elements like overcoming fear and nostalgia, or cautioning to match words with actions, the author’s message of authenticity rings true. Examples of great successes, like opening a store in Times Square, stand beside great failures, such as teetering on bankruptcy.
Eckō’s strength is in effectively conveying his own genuine article, while imploring innovators to follow suit. He cautions against name-dropping one minute, while mentioning Puff Daddy Combs or George Lucas the next. His earthy writing is laced with as many vulgarities as suggestions, but given his New Jersey background and ‘street cred’ as an innovator in the graffiti art world, none of it sounds off-key. He is as frank about his shortcomings as he is confident in his accomplishments. Bad investments, like buying Barry Bonds’ infamous home-run ball, are as prominently displayed as his art and clothing lines.
Artists and innovators will not find a magic door here. Eckō isn’t extending a hand with a blue or red pill. What they will find is a clearer picture of the behind-the-scenes trials of a well-known brand. The book is as much about hanging out clean and dirty laundry, as it is a clothing label. Revealing the blood and guts, while terrifying, shows artists what they have ahead of themselves if they really want to market their brand – without compromising their values of credibility and creativity.
]Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out, by Mark Eckō.
Touchtone. 2013. 304 pages.
3.5 out of 4 stars. Highly recommended reading.