Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Keep your dirty ad hands away from my girls

[Yesterday was a busy post day so I decided to stick this one in the fridge. Though reheated, I promise it's just as good today.]

So I was sipping my non-pretentious green tea at breakfast this morning when I ran across this headline in my NY Times: "Product Placement Deals Make Leap From Film to Books". Those dirty dirty marketers have finally found a way to get their dirty hands into your books.

The particular book in question, is "Cathy's Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233". A "young adult novel" (read: shrilly tweens) that is part girly stuff and part adventure story. It has multimedia elements such as websites, message boards and an "evidence pack" with all sorts of nifty clues. Oh yeah and you got her phone number. Which by the way, for the sake of journalism, I did call. She's not there, but she's safe, in case you're wondering. (And no, I haven't read the book, though I just might.)

But all the hoopla is not about Cathy and her promiscuity with her mobile number. No, that would be too easy. What everyone is talking about is the passages in the book that are blatantly product placement. According to the article, there is a line about "a killer coat of Lipslicks in 'Daring.'" And then, in what will surely be known as the sell-out of the century, the authors changed the descriptive "gunmetal grey eyeliner" to "eyecolor in 'Midnight Metal'". If you're not a connossieur of tween makeup like I am, then you wouldn't know that those passages described products by Cover Girl, the makeup company owned by Procter and Gamble. (But now you do know and you're a better person for it)

Purists are upset. A watchdog group called "Commercial Alert" has even asked reviewers not to read the marketing trash (via Adrants). The publishers, however, contend that they finished the novel before ever approaching the marketers (and strangely enough, it was they who approached the evil ones). The marketers aren't paying any actual sum of money to the publishers, rather they will help market the game via a P&G site. A back-scratching fest, if I ever did see one.

So in light of all the talking heads with valid points, I did more research for you. Aren't you glad I'm on your side?

One of the authors of the book is Sean Stewart (a dude, no less). Including Cathy's Book, he has written 7 novels and not just any novels, award winning sci-fi novels. And are you ready for this bit? A connection to gaming: He was part of the team that brought the world the much acclaimed "i love bees" alternate reality game for the Halo launch. Small world isn't it? Now if you know anything about ARG's, especially the "i love bees" one, you'll know that it is a form of entertainment that's really pushing the edge of media consumption, especially interactive.

Shall we piece this all together? Cutting-edge, award-winning and interactive-savvy writers jot down a novel. Instead of pushing it the regular way, they decide to elicit the help of some deeper pockets, the evil marketers. They change a few makeup names, get tons of press coverage and alienate the literary purist. Ok, I get it. But... I'm not that upset. (Like you didn't see that one coming)

Sure, I see the problem with it. I mean, this might be the equivalent to a gateway drug for publishers. They get a taste of the sweet nectar of marketing and they're hooked. Pretty soon, they're rewriting Tolstoy and someone's sipping Ketel One. But honestly, are all books worth the effort?

Look at the trash out there: the movie books, the B-list celebrity autobiography and the pseudo-movie scripts on the best-sellers list, to just name a few. Let's be honest with ourselves and admit it: Just because we call it a book doesn't mean it's sacred.

But even this book, with it's interactivity and ARG-like elements, is not taking it too far. We're not talking about every brand mascot you know gratuitously line dancing within the pages here. We're talking about a couple makeup products being given "real" names AND the marketers behind it actually fessing up to it.

This gets my stamp of approval. Now let me hear you rant!

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