Some slightly stale rantage:
On Monday, Kate Rothwell mentioned how much she hates it when authors obsess too much over designer shoes. Then PBW mused on Tuesday about the possibility of product placement in novels. Reading over those two items, the first thing I thought was “Shit, Manolo Blahnnik and Prada should pay MaryJanice Davidson a mint for all the shilling she’s done for them.”
And my second thought was “UGH.”
Yes, product placement in novels is a great marketing opportunity and another way to generate revenue, but frankly, I live in a society already saturated with marketing messages and advertisements; the possibility of one of the few ad-free spaces in my life being actively taken over makes me want to cry.
Yes, novels aren’t entirely ad-free and haven’t been for ages. I own several Harlequin, Leisure and Zebra books with those cardboard book club advert inserts. The back pages are often dedicated to advertisements for other books and excerpts for upcoming books. The difference is, I can skip through those without a beat and without ever missing the story. When the product is mentioned within the story, I can’t avoid it.
Many contemporary novels of all sorts often mention specific brands and products during the course of the story, and like I mentioned in Kate’s blog, I think it often serves as convenient shorthand more than anything else. For example: A pair of white Nikes vs. a pair of white Keds vs. a pair of white sneakers all offer different mental images. And sometimes, items like these can even offer insights into characters. Think of a heroine whose favorite shoes are a pair of battered hot pink Converse All-Stars decorated with glittery Transformers stickers vs. a heroine who wears only high-end Nikes or Reeboksâ€”if she bothers to wear sneakers at allâ€”vs. a heroine who deliberately removes or defaces any obvious logos on her sneakers so you can’t tell what brand she’s wearing. Of course, one can omit the brand name entirely instead and spend a bit of time describing the footwear instead; more words may be expended, but I think this method is oftentimes much more effective than just shooting out the brand name. I mean, think of Min in Bet Me and her shoe fetish. I had a wonderfully concrete impression of all the shoes she wore, and to this day I can remember that the pair Cal gave her was white, fuzzy and featured a bunny face, while she owned a pair with fish on them and another pair that had cherries. I’m pretty positive no shoe designers were mentioned in that book. Betsy from Undead and Unwed? She wore Manolo Blahniks, and that’s about all I can remember.
Too much name-brand dropping can also become a distraction, and it assumes that the reader will get the reference. That’s not necessarily the worst part; a skilled author should be able to work the references in without making it too clunky. What bothers me the most is the compulsory nature of the deal. Just thinking about it makes my stomach ache. (NOTE TO SELF: May very well be the chili dogs I had for dinner talking.) Maybe I’m too much of an idealist when it comes to the notion of maintaining a certain amount of artistic integrity. And hey, I admit it’s also a lot easier for me to rabbit on about the importance of artistic integrity when I don’t make my living with my creative pursuitsâ€”I sell my soul other ways instead, mwaha. So I guess my paranoia right now centers around scenarios like this: what if Microsoft pays mega-bucks to an author to mention its products in a flattering light in a book featuring a hardcore computer geek, when many hardcore geeks would rather cut off their left nut than install anything Microsoft-related on their computers?
I mean, what if the heroine is really, TRULY a Coca-Cola girl in a Pepsi-sponsored novel?
Yes, questions like these really do keep me awake at night. And yes, in a very odd but very real way, I think there’s a substantive difference between an author choosing on her own free will to create a heroine obsessed with collecting Hello Kitty figurines vs. Sanrio paying the author money to make a previously Hello Kitty-free heroine into one who won’t rest easy until she has every Badtz Maru coffee mug ever created.