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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Is Product Placement Selling Out?

English: Sign “ Coca-Cola ” in the mountains o...Image via Wikipedia
       It has not been unknown for authors to write products or corporate concepts into their works in return for something else.  Movies and TV do this all the time.  It's not a coincidence that the judges on American Idol are all drinking out of Coca-Cola cups.

        What about writing?  Is it okay to sell promotional considerations--or advertising if you will--to make extra money from your written product?   If when you were ready to write your next book, some business entity offered you a thousand dollars to place product into your story would you do it?  What about ten thousand dollars?  Fifty?  What is your breaking point?  Some authors have made some good money doing this.  Would you do it?

        What if the placement included something in the cover art work?   Let's say that a top notch artist would be doing the cover of your book and it would look really good.  And you were going to be paid a nice sum to allow product to appear on your cover.   Would it belittle the writing to accept?

       What if your publisher's terms required you to accept product placement that they were paid for and not you?  But--they guaranteed you huge sales?  Or they at least offered you distribution?   Does this seem kind of tacky to you or just business?

         I don't know if this is still a practice, but I can recall seeing books with advertising in the center of the book--kind of a commercial break between parts.  Would it bother you if your book was manufactured like that?

         This is part of my interest in marketing versus art.   Is the integrity of art sullied by commercial connections?   Why or why not?

          What is better having a wealthy patron fund you?  Or getting funded by government grants?   If you had the opportunity, would you quit your job to receive the same pay and benefits in order to write full time?  Dream job or scary offer?

           Just tossing it out to you.   Now play along and toss it back.

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  1. I can certainly see where money for advertising in your work would be a huge temptation, particularly if you were just starting out. Since it is unlikely that I will ever be published I feel safe in taking the high, I don't feel that advertising belongs within or on the pages of a book. I am considering turning off the TV for ever because of advertising so I certainly wouldn't want to find it in something I was reading.
    Government grants? Does this buy the goverment input into what you create? If so...then no to that as well. The government is scary. Would I quit my job to write? Given that I had talent...yes. Dream job for sure.

  2. I think if the placement was being paid for, or overt (wasn't there a novel sponsored by a diamond company? *bad research there*) then that's bad. Cover art placement would be a definite no-no.

    But I think the mention of brand names can set the scene. Being English, I can find the mention of unknown American products can make a novel feel quite exotic, even if to an American it's the most run-of-the-mill product available.

  3. I guess it's all just business. Probably happens even more often than we think as well.

  4. Very thought provoking post Lee, here's my miniature take on it. It depends, like so many things on the circumstances you've pointed out such as the money involved, the product involved and the audacity of the advertisement, like how much it jumps out to you or whatever. If a huge Coca Cola logo takes up the front cover instead of a tiny bottle of coke being drank by two main characters on the cover then I wouldn't agree with it unless forced to by my publishers.

    Sneaky mentions in the book itself are fair game in my opinion so long as they're not too often recurring. Like, mentioning real life products brings a certain level of realism to the table so I see no issue when it comes to that.

  5. Is selling out - selling out? Probably.

    Is rationalizing - rationalizing? Probably

    You have to decide which side of the coin you want to live on.

  6. I think if it's a sponsor, I am not surprised they aren't wearing full outfits to promote... cause they are flipping the bill.

    I like little ideas and this goes back to movies "Home Alone II" or "E.T." where they put something in the movie that then pushed sales of product without really trying. I don't I have ever been taken in by ads or product placements as I sit here sipping my "Pepsi"... wearing my "Nike" shoes and enjoying a "Pop Tart"...


  7. Sorry... it's not selling out, it's using the visuals that we see to their advantages. I don't think it's too bad as long as they don't wave a banner in our faces.

  8. It depends. Crass commercialization doesn't float my boat, but the inclusion of specific products (or even causes) within a written work would be okay by me IF I personally endorsed those products or causes. Not sure how I'd feel about taking money for doing it, though. (I'm kinda weird.)

  9. Lots of stuff to think about here, Lee. My first reaction is "no, I wouldn't do any of that stuff" but I'm at the point in my life where I've learned to "never say never." A more accurate statement would be "I don't think I would do any of those things." :)

    It doesn't usually bother me if name brands are mentioned in the story to show character/character development. The brand of cigarettes, the brand of beer, etc. gives a peek into who these people are. However, there's a big difference between "mentioning" and "hitting the reader over the head." :)

  10. I duno, a cola sign in the middle of the desert could turn into an interesting story! I suppose if you're not being too greedy and it fits with the story then why not.

  11. I don't think that is selling out if you are staying true to your story and heart. This is a lot to think about and I might need another cup of coffee first. ;-)

  12. Delores --Somebody has to pay for TV programming and the other arts/media. My question is who? And what are the limitations? Government? Comes out taxes and we may be paying for things that we don't approve of or agree with.

    Annalisa --A novel was commissioned by the Bulgari jewelry company. The author apparently made money off the effort and was that bad? Why would product placement on a book cover be a no-no if it were tastefully incorporated?

    Alex -- I sure it does happen often, but would you do it?

    Yeamie -- I think you're grasping more of what I'm talking about. Subtle incorporation into the story as opposed to blatant advertising is more what product placement is about.

    Faraway -- Is evading the question copping out? Choosing sides is the question, so which side would you choose?

    Jeremy -- I agree. I don't like being hit over the head with a Budweiser bottle any more than being slapped in the face with a fresh fish from Joe's Fish Market, incorporating real images to make stories more real and receiving remuneration for doing so might not be a terrible thing if it funds the artist.

    Susan -- Why feel weird? Would you write a book and give it away because asking for payment for it would seem awkward?

    Madeline -- I'm not really talking about hitting anyone over the head but making obvious inclusions that almost subliminally enter into a reader's mind. It's business. What do you do for a living? (just a question to think about)

    Anna - Yes! That's a good answer I think.

    Tracy Jo -- Okay, tell me more after coffee---what brand are you drinking?


  13. I think there's nothing wrong with product placement. It's when it becomes the entire focus of a project that it gets distracting.

  14. BOIDMAN ~
    In my opinion, so much depends upon the circumstances.

    I might be open to some ideas, some product placement suggestions, depending upon the project and depending upon the product.

    Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES would I agree to the use of a specific product in a work of mine if in reality I, myself, did not like the product or had something against the company that produced it.

    Is it "Made In China" or some other Communist country or fascist dictatorship? Then the answer is, "No!", and don't ask again.

    In my screenplay, the primary male character drinks "Beefeater" gin. I deliberately named the brand in the screenplay because it told something about the character: He is actually kind of a weak, fearful man, and so he always drinks "Beefeater" because it makes him feel more "macho" to order something with such a "manly" kind of name. He's trying to cover up his lack of courage with a "strong-sounding" strong drink.

    So, I myself initiated the product placement in my screenplay only because it genuinely revealed something about the character. The idea was thought-out in advance and was organic to what I was trying to say about his personality.

    Now, would I have been willing to change "Beefeater" to "Bombay" because the Bombay gin company offered me a lot of money to do so? Absolutely NOT! My artistic integrity could not be bought off like that.

    But, as I said, I think there are a lot of different scenarios, and each one I would need to evaluate individually.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  15. yeah, it's tacky

    but it is hard to imagine that any corporation would be interested in anyone who is producing real art. if you are popular enough to attract interest in product placement, then you've already sold out ...

  16. Karen -- You and I are on the same track with this I think.

    StMc -- I kind of agree about the moral connections (if that's the proper way to describe it), but it may not always be as simple as that. We unwittingly or by near necessity support a lot of things we don't agree with. For me I guess it depends on the severity of the sociological and political sins. As far as "artistic Integrity", I guess that's part of my question: Is the integrity of the artistic product really that much of a concern if done in relatively good taste (if that's not an oxymoron). Does art really have that much integrity anyway?

    James -- Corporations fund plenty of what some consider art. Is "selling out" really that bad if it means paying your bill, feeding your family, etc? In some ways don't most people who have jobs "sell out". What is an example of someone who isn't selling out in some way?


  17. I think that using the names of real products make a story more 'real'...everyone's heard of Coca Cola, or Reese's Pieces. And what's wrong with accepting a little cash to use the name of a certain product that appears in your story anyway...after all, the whole story's for sale, isn't it? That being said, I don't think that the story should become so rife with brand names that they distract from it..wouldn't it be nice to actually have this 'problem', rather than just be discussing it hypothetically? lol! for the question of artistic kind of reminds me of something I heard Stephen King say in an interview quite a while back. He was asked how much input he has when his novels are turned into movies..he said that if he sells a story out right, then whatever they do with it is not his business, he doesn't care because he's been properly paid for the story...not that any of us will ever reach the level of success that Stephen King has, but it makes you think.
    I just think it would be awesome if Coke and Pepsi were duking it out to appear in one of my stories! Well, I guess we can all dream a little!

  18. Eve -- I think I love you. Great answer! That's my thinking as well. I like Stephen King's attitude as well--probably part of the reason he's so successful.


  19. I truly do not like ads and I don't use product names in my writing. But I'd probably sell myself out if the price were right. Personally I'd LOVE a rich patron.

  20. Don't have an answer - it would have to happen to me first before I would know. I 'think' it wouldn't bother me if it didn't affect my characters or the story or if I could figure a way to place the product so that it didn't. Since it hasn't happened to me, I don't really know.

  21. Since a lot of writing is set in contemporary culture, I think some mentions of products/companies is inevitable. As long as it's not blatantly obvious that a work has commercial connections, I don't mind; and I think that it's actually a bit lucky for writers that there isn't more forced advertising in works distributed by publishers.

  22. For me, it would really depend on the product. If it was a product I support, I would certainly accept money for a placement. However, I mention McDonald's in my book, because it's part of life as a kid, and it makes sense. It's not a paid advertisment; it's just reality. I'm not sure how I would feel about taking money for that since I don't really support McDonald's. Or any fast food.

    That said, I would not allow my publisher to force something on me that they benefited from and not me. I'd rather not have that publisher than have them just making a profit, and even larger profit, off of me. Of course, I self-pubbed for those very reasons.

    As for cover art: only if it was pertinent to the story. McDonald's is not pertinent to my story, so I would not take money to throw them on my cover. However, I could possibly be persuaded to put something Star Wars related on it because Star Wars so permeates the mind set of the book.

  23. I don't know Lee. I can see where product placement naturally occurs in a story, but I don't know about getting paid for it. In one of my stories the mc is a 9 year old boy who loves brand name stuff, but that is part of his personality. Hmmmmmm

  24. OK, you caught me.

    No to copping out and no to rationalization. But, this is still a two sided coin because one mans cop out is another mans path of choice.

    Shouldn't artistic integrity be about the artist not the art. It's the creators integrity what's called into question.

    I get into trouble every time I try to b a smart-A. I DO believe it's a matter of personal choice. For me it would be selling out to sell off 'my work of art' to the highest bidder for product placement. BUT, that's just me. I don't want to live on either side of that coin.

    I'll get back to you, if someone ever wants to publish my work and the issue comes up. Maybe being a smart-A will keep me honest and from selling out, cause ya never know.

  25. Hello! I'm new to your blog from the Campaign at Rach Writes. I've seen the A-Z logo everywhere and now I've finally found the home site! Your post raises some interesting points and I guess receiving money for product placement would seem a little like selling out to me, not that I'm against it for others, but I would want to make it on my talent alone someday. That being said, someone made the comment that products are mentioned in relation to culture and setting, and not only do I see that point, but I've done it myself. Looking forward to more of your posts!

  26. Bish -- But could a corporation be considered the same as a rich patron? Did not great painters or composers in the past dedicate works to patrons or paint them into their works? If they catered to whims of their wealthy benefactors but created lasting artwork in the process, were they "selling out"?

    Carol -- That's an honest answer. When faced with hypotheticals it's easier to take the moral high ground than if you are actually confronted with an opportunity for wealth or fame or whatever might fulfill your dreams.

    Golden -- If it's gonna be there anyway, why not get paid for it if you can?

    Andrew -- Self-pubbing means more control, but if a book contract with big sums was set before you with a stipulation to satisfy a sponsor would it be worth it if it had a significant effect on your future as an author. Do celebrities always totally agree with products they advertise for? Or is it just another paying gig?

    Sharon -- So would you want to be just advertising brand names for free or if you could do the same thing with pay wouldn't that be better for you?

    Faraway -- Of course it's a choice and that's my question. Some people will define their integrity on the purity of the product, but in doing so they may be limiting the reach of their art and their own ability to live better. Some of these artists receive government money to produce what I might consider pure garbage, but others in the art world might look at as something wonderful. To me that's stealing from the taxpayers. If a creator of an artistic work cannot profit directly from the sale of a work then I'd much rather see a corporate sponsorship than a government funding. But it is indeed a personal choice as is the definition of integrity.

    Honey -- Welcome to my site and I look forward to your return. Are you going to join us in the A to Z Challenge?


  27. I get the question; what I'm saying is that it would really have to be something I could support. I don't think I could do it otherwise. Of course, no one has ever offered me a huge sum of money, and we never really know how we'll respond until it happens.

  28. I thought about product placement for my books. I originally had Chase driving around with a glove compartment full of Payday candy bars. Why? Not sure.

    I do use real establishments such as hotels, restaurants, and bars. I visit them and order off the menus, then place this in my books as establishments the characters frequent.

    So in this sense I do use product placement.

  29. It reminds me of the Morgan Spurlock movie "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" where he tries to fund a movie entirely with product placement. Pretty funny. Like the new banner BTW. Slick!

  30. Andrew -- Hypotheticals are fun to speculate on, but we don't really know what we'd do unless the offer came.

    Stephen -- I think you and I had a discussion related to this about Breakthrough. You mentioned a lot of real places.

    Maurice - I haven't seen that movie yet, but I've heard about it. Sounds fun. The banner was designed by A to Z co-host Jeremy from Retro-Zombie.

    Sucen-- Thanks for stopping by.


  31. This is a tricky one. If it was a discreet mention rather than in-your-face, it would blend with the text and not be a big deal. Considering I used to call soda/soft drinks Coke, whether it was Coke or not, that wouldn't necessarily be too out of place.

    Blatant advertising would be a definite no-no, though. I can't say how many times I've made fun of movies with obvious product placement. It lowers something in my view if it is too obvious.

    Can I fault people for it? Not really. Would I do it? Impossible to say unless I was in the situation.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

  32. Hi Lee .. I'm not sure .. but I guess the larger corporations will get their mitts in there somehow.

    It could be a useful tool for two local businesses - an author and a local business promoting something (similar) within the book ..

    It wasn't so long ago that most books had adverts in them ... certainly up to and just after the war - pre War there were lots .. I've got quite a few books with ads in them .. Mrs Beeton, Guide Books .. I was going to write a post on them (one day!) ...

    Cheers Hilary

  33. I hate the placed advertisements in anything and everything. The first thing I do when I get a new magazine is go through and tear out the cardstock ads. When I see blogs with ads running down either side, I shake my head sadly. Ad placement in TV shows drives me crazy. Grrr. I am really getting wound up, so I had better stop.

  34. This is a very interesting concept to bring up, Lee. One thing I've noticed lately is that some bloggers (writers or webcomic artists) will solicit advertisers whose products they truly enjoy and they incorporate the advertisement tastefully. Or they have companies "sponsor" a post, and they put a note on the bottom that so-and-so sponsored this post -- check out their merchandise!

    For whatever reason, I don't begrudge them that, and I don't see it as "selling out." They are people making creative output and they are trying to make that make money for them. When people are very thoughtful about it, as in most of these instances, I often find I am not only unbothered by it, I am actually interested in their sponsors/advertisers and will go check them out.

    I would figure that, in a book, it would be the same thing. If a particular product is already in the book, why not get paid for product placement? I once wrote a short story where the MC drank Dr. Pepper a lot because it reminded her of her brother, who loved it. If I were to expand that and sell it as a full-length novel, it would be perfectly reasonable to try to get the company to pay me to incorporate a can of Dr. Pepper in the cover art. It's already part of the story, after all.

    If you're selling a book, you're trying to make money from your art. Why not get some extra money, if it makes sense and works with the story?


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