Monday, September 11, 2006

And Now A Word From Our Sponsors

A story from USA Today plops into the Microsoft Outlook Express Inbox on our Compaq laptop. I click on it eagerly with our Logitech wireless mouse. It's about product placement in books...

What I particularly love about product placement in books is the notion that the product will blend seamlessly into the rest of the story, nestling its way unnoticed into the brain of the reader who will have no idea why they suddenly want to buy a Ford. It's bad enough when you see someone drinking a coke in a film, but at least there are a dozen other things on screen your eye could rest on. Product placement in books is the equivalent of zooming right in on the can of coke while the lead actor says "I love Coca Cola! It's such a tasty, refreshing beverage! And, by the way, frankly my dear I don't give a damn."

My absolute favourite example of literary product placement was a book that I once saw which was sponsored by the Gatwick Express. The entire first chapter of the book was devoted to the narrator talking about how brilliant it was shopping in Gatwick airport, so much so that she would go and shop there even when she didn't have a flight to catch.

Of course, people mention brand names in their books all the time, but usually not with one eye on the sales figures. I'm not sure, for example, how sales of Kool-Aid were affected after the release of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid test. (I can make a guess about sales of Acid, though.) Where authors mention brands, it's generally to situate the characters in time, place, class - to create context, in other words. It's to aid your suspeension of disbelief.

Product placement is the opposite: it's clunky. It stops you short. It makes you forget you were reading about a character and makes you start thinking about toothpaste. Why any author would wish their book to be compromised in this way is a mystery to me. OK, it's not that much of a mystery - it's money of course; but accepting product placement in your novel is a surefire way to make lots of money from advertising and none whatsoever from sales. And I know where I'd rather my cash came from.

...she said, smoothing down the fabric of her Zara skirt and adjusting the straps of her Gap top...

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