Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Tuesday, February 19, 2021

Name-dropping actual name-brands is nothing new in literature; the works of one Stephen King come readily to mind.

Having those brand-names inserted into a novel’s narrative and dialogue per an advertising/marketing agreement? It’s been around for a few years now, and it seems to be gaining currency, particularly among youth-targeted fiction. But there are different approaches to injecting interwoven ad messaging — including the option of foregoing the exercise altogether upon re-issue.

With “Cathy’s Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233,” a genre-bending mystery for young adults by Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman that was published in 2006, the authors learned that product placement could be a touchy subject. After their publisher, Running Press, an imprint of Perseus Books Group, revealed that the authors had agreed to have characters wear specific makeup lines made by Cover Girl in exchange for promotional ads for the book on beinggirl.com, a Web site aimed at adolescent girls and run by Procter & Gamble, Cover Girl’s parent, the book came in for criticism. Ralph Nader’s advocacy group, Commercial Alert, urged book review editors to boycott it, and the novelist Jane Smiley wrote a disapproving op-ed article for The Los Angeles Times; The New York Times wrote a critical editorial as well.

Now the novel — which features a series of clues that are given out in voice mail messages, Web sites, letters and other documents included with or referred to in the book — is set to come out in paperback on Monday, and all the references to Cover Girl’s products have been removed. A drawing in the hardcover edition, for instance, shows Cathy wearing “Cover Girl lipgloss ‘Demure,’ ” and “Waterproof Mascara —’Very Black’ ,” but it appears in the paperback version without any makeup noted. And at the end of the hardcover edition, Cathy talks about wearing “a killer coat of Lipslicks in ‘Daring’ “; in the paperback she just says, “a killer coat of lipstick.”

The justification is that the marketing agreement applied only to the first-edition hardcover, so the clean-up for paperback is just as much a business deal. But we are talking about making the novel’s prose unusually malleable, to the point where it doesn’t represent a permanent record. Not that we’re talking about Shakespeare in this instance, but how does this affect other genres should the product-placement arrangement gain popularity? It’s a slippery slope.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 02/19/2008 11:06:53 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Publishing
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