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20 July 2008

Devil's Advocate

I have this idea that I'm not sure I agree with, but I'm going to talk about it anyway, because that's just how I roll, y'all.


People are getting knickers twisted because of the current slew of YA books that mention brand names. You know, the seven squillion Gossip Girl* clones out there. Where all the kiddies are wearing Burberry and Manolos and whatever else is fashionable right now. And now companies are paying publishers for in-book product placement. So poor Katie H Protagonist is now slapping on Maybelline WetShine Diamonds in Raunchy Red.

And the knicker twisted ones (whose side I am almost completely on, btw) are saying: "how TERRIBLE that companies are using BOOKS to peddle their wares! BOOKS the LAST TRUE BASTION OF CULTURE etc etc.

So my devil's advocate position is this:

Companies are going to advertise their products to teenagers no matter what we do, or say. Nothing will stop that. So wouldn't you rather a Young Person was getting a healthy dose of Reading along with their advertising? Instead of just on a TV commercial or billboard somewhere?

I suppose it depends on what the choice is. If the choice is: Books With Product Placement or Books Without Product Placement, I choose the latter. But if the choice is Advertising With Character Development And Narrative or Advertising On Irritating TV Commercials, I'll take my ads in books.

Does that make sense?

I also wouldn't want it to go too far the other way. In my latest book, I mention Two Minute Noodles, Mars Bars, MySpace, Google and Care Bears. The story wouldn't have felt as real if I'd not been able to use those things. Nothing pulls a reader out of a narrative like the mention of Three Minute Rice, Jupiter Bars, MyArea, Croogle and Solicitude Bears. Of course Google and the Care Bears didn't pay me anything to mention their products. So I suppose that's different.

But still.

You see what I'm saying?

I still haven't convinced myself. But I'm getting there.
*Speaking of Gossip Girl, have you seen the racy new promos? SOLID GOLD.


Penni Russon said...

I'm utterly opposed to this practice morally, because I think it could all go horribly wrong, advertisers exerting more control over what gets published (look at the content of magazines and newspapers).
having said that, if the price was right...bring it.

Trish said...

I worry less about selling out to Corporate America than I do about my book becoming obsolete before it's even published because teens are already on to the next new trend. If I have to choose between selling ads in my narrative or having a book that stands the test of time, I'd rather have the latter.

That said, my wealthy MC in MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY name drop designers, but I try to limit the number of times. And I don't get so specific as Maybelline Wet Shine in Purple Passion. Generally I try to imply wealth, such as "butter soft Italian leather" or "green cashmere hoodie".

Kirsty Murray said...

We live in a consumer culture and we buy, buy, buy. So I have no problem with product placement because it reflects the wider culture.

But the devil is in the detail, not the advocate. There is product placement and there is sheer, unbridled product glorification. What is deeply offensive is a book that is actually an advertisement for a product, rather than simply referencing a product. Think Barbie books, Pokemon books and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen books. The sole purpose of these books is to give some sham integrity to the product and to extend the market. These are not expressions of anything other than the rankest aspect of consumerism and have nothing to say to anyone. It's like giving kids fairyfloss for dinner and saying - 'but it is food, and food is good'.

I like to see books not only reference products, but make fun of them, play with them, bag them, love them, hate them, break them, vandlaise them - just like in the real world. Be honest about products. They're just stuff in the end.

What is wrong, is when products become self-referencing and self-reverential and the author plays along, pretending that because it's in a 'book' it is something other than rank advertising.

Laura said...

Lili, could you do a favour for me plz?
Go onto
And vote for the story called Kynt and Vixsin.
And tell all your friends about it too.

Anonymous said...

I see your point (especially with the fake products, which may as well be printed in Day-glo ink since they stand out so much. Only thing worse? Fake band names. And overly long asides), but the worry is the potential for the advertising to start dictating things in the narrative. For example, if your publisher had come back to you and said they had deals with advertisers that required you to change two-minute noodles to Fantasic Noodles, Mars Bars to Boost, Google to Altavista and MySpace to Bebo . . . oh, and when they eat the Boost bar, could the character comment on the delicious chocolatey flavour?
It would be easy to end up with the use of products that isn't really true to the individual character, but is instead dictated by who the publisher has a deal with (or doesn't -- don't mention Converse, they're refusing to sign up with us!).