Fifty Shades of Cup-a-Soup – the crazy world of knock-off erotic publishing

soup montageWe’ve all done it. Stumbling hungover through the supermarket looking for a packet of Cup-a Soup, you grab one from the shelf and it’s only when you get home you realise you’ve ended up with the supermarket’s own brand instead. Every successful brand attracts imitators, who’ll usually try to match the look and feel of the original packaging as closely as they can. And in books, EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is currently the biggest, most successful brand of them all. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to see THIS display in WH Smith the other day:

if you like that you'll love this!

You’ll notice that some of the original Fifty Shades books are scattered among the cuckoos, making the display as confusing as possible. So let’s find out which of the imitators have come closest to the benchmark. (Yes, I’m judging books purely by their covers. I haven’t read Fifty Shades or any of these others, and I’m not here to sneer at them either. I just marvel at the bravado of this sort of opportunistic marketing.)


THE Ninety Days of Genevieve

Background: The gradation from dark at the top to light at the bottom is perfect. Falls into the trap of using a pure grey rather than a bluish one though. 7/10

Font: A bit too austere 4/10

Imagery: None 0/10

Title: Ninety is an impressive step onwards from fifty, “Days” has assonance with “Shades”, and Genevieve is a name starting with G. Fair 7/10

Bonus: All the more impressive as a knock-off considering it was originally written in 1996 7/10

Total: 25/50


Background: Again with the over-literal grey 5/10

Font: Nasty mix of caps and italics 3/10

Imagery: The boots and riding crop are textbook 10/10

Title: Copying the whole “Fifty Shades Of” is breathtakingly audacious 8/10

Bonus: It’s all completely undercut by putting “A Parody” right on the front cover where even the slowest-brained shopper will see it 0/10

TOTAL: 26/50


Background: Much too black, but the imaginary light source is in about the right place 4/10

Font: Nicely rounded but a bit heavy 6/10

Imagery: The choice of abstract, vaguely erotic object – a violin – is nice, but it’s tacky to merge it with a human headshot 4/10

Title: “Eighty Days” is a weaker echo of “Ninety Days” (see above) but this has gone the whole hog by finishing with a colour! Yellow is a great choice but may imply piss-sex, which will put off the gentler reader. A point also docked for missing out the “Of” 8/10

Bonus: “Fun, frisky and grown-up” pull-quote 6/10

TOTAL: 28/50


Background: The blue/grey mix is spot-on. There’s perhaps a little too much light if we’re nit-picking 9/10

Font: No-one asked for capitals. And where’s that yellow subtitle come from? 0/10

Imagery: Stiletto heels meet the “item of clothing with vaguely sexual connotations” criterion nicely 10/10

Title: “12” is a lot less than fifty, and it should be spelt out properly. “Shades” is a daring direct lift but it loses its way with “Surrender: Undone”. Show, don’t tell! 5/10

Bonus: The “Guaranteed to get you hot under the collar” pull-quote is serviceable but a bit obvious 5/10

TOTAL: 29/50 – with twenty-nine shades of grey we have our winner! Well done Mills & Boon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s