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Product Placement Notes

marlboroI know. I know. I’ve got to get out more often. But this is ridiculous!

Here we are sitting in our library, Gary reading aloud to me from our latest choice of novels—a thing he has been doing every morning for about the past decade—and I’m holding my nice hot coffee mug and the character in our book is chatting amiably to another character, a buddy of his, and the buddy lights up a cigarette and the brand name is mentioned and then the character says—he actually inserts it right into the novel—he quotes the advertising slogan for the cigarettes. Wait a minute! I sit up. Gary stops reading and looks up. Hey, wasn’t that a product placement you just read?

haagen dazsI guess I’m a little slow, but apparently this has been going on for a long time in novels. What I want is details: does the novelist receive a spiff for casually working a major brand name into a novel? Is the spiff paid to the author in addition to the publisher’s advance? Or does the publisher negotiate the spiff and include it in the advance? Does the novelist receive a check from the publisher or from the advertiser for this kind of product placement? Is the spiff larger when the clever novelist manages to work in the company slogan in a casual offhand way so that you, the reader, barely notice the pitch? Does the spiff increase the market share of the product based on a target market that might read the novel? How does the author or publisher or advertiser cokedetermine that target market—in other words, is it somehow predetermined that this particular author attracts that particular market segment and that that target is exactly the kind of consumer the advertiser wants to sell to? If so, some advertiser out there is in big trouble with the cigarette product placement. Gary and I don’t smoke.

Is a puzzlement.

Doesn’t the novelist’s use of product placement compromise the integrity of the novel? At the very least, the product placement interrupts the continuity and rhythm of the narrative. Doesn’t product placement in literature infer a quid pro quo between author and product, cheapening the integrity of the writer? Really, Mary! Am I just pathetically naïve? Grow up! There are no free lunches in these free markets.

How little a college education prepares one. 

Surrealist painter and writer Mary E. Carter shows her work (including goose girls, chicken ladies and not so winged creatures) at Flying Falling Floating. The former advertising copywriter is also a published book author.

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