Monday, June 12, 2006

Product Placement In YA Lit

The article everyone is talking about at the New York Times: Product Placement Deals Make Leap From Film to Books.

Is product placement necessary? Is it better to describe a teenager wearing a specific brand of jeans with the assumption that the teen reader will instantly "know" the wearer's status, socially and economically? Or is it better to say that the teenager was wearing last year's jeans or the trying to hard brand? Part of me thinks that using product names dates a work and gives it a very limited shelf life. Plus, what if the writer and advertise is "off", and the brand that's supposed to be cool isn't?

But does it do that for movies? Or TV? Hairstyles date film; how high someone wore jeans even 5 years ago makes us laugh. But I still watch and enjoy those films and TV shows.

And why shouldn't writers have access to the same revenue stream as films and TV?

If someone is willing to pay for their product to be mentioned -- what about when the product isn't mentioned in a flattering light? If the brand of jeans is used to illustrated the girl who is trying to hard to make friends and is therefore marked as the wrong brand -- could the manufacturer sue a book for using that brand without permission? (Part of me really, really wants to look that up and is wishing for access to legal databases. Admire me or feel sad for me, it's your call.)

Does product placement work? Hey, I've seen things on TV -- a chair, a pair of PJs (yes, the Buffy sushi ones) -- and wanted them. I have a jacket and a bag I bought because they remind me of ones I saw and loved on Veronica Mars. But would reading about it make me want to have them? I think I need to see the item to covet; while reading about it just helps me define the character or setting or place.

Enough rambling.

Here are some product placement links:

Snopes dishes the truth about ET, M&Ms and Reese's Pieces.

The Wikipedia entry.

Brand Hype, tracking product placement.

Comic Books and Product Placement -- with comic books being the product placed.

Comic Books and Product Placement -- with products being placed in the comic.


Gail Gauthier said...

The difference between using a product name to describe something in a book and having someone wear that product in a film or TV is that in a film or TV the viewer can see the item. Even if I don't know what a Coach bag is, if someone is carrying a Coach bag on TV, I know what that particular bag looks like because I can see it. If someone is carrying a Coach bag in a book, and I've never seen one before (and perhaps have never even heard of the company)to simply say, "Jennifer was carrying her new Coach bag" is meaningless. There's no description at all.

Someone could make the argument that it makes a statement about status, but I think that's already overdone. Using expensive possessions to mark status is already a cliche.

I really think that as far as writing is concerned, using product names is very poor. The marketing thing is a totally different issue.

Liz B said...

Without the description I can't help but think that the use of the word in a book is poor product placement. Because, as you say, lack of description makes it almost meaningless in terms of "selling" me the item. So whether or not it's a disturbing trend, I don't think it's going to be a productive trend.

For the most part, when I encounter product names it gets too "clunky" for reading; except for Gossip Girl, but I view that as almost parody, of both the products and the teens who are consumed with them.

That said... I really like my Coach bag. But I didn't buy it because I saw it on TV or read about it in a book.