26 June 2007

REPOST 3/29/2007 Product Placement in books...

One of my writing partners, Gregory L. Norris, an ex-SCI FI Magazine correspondent and writer for Star Trek: Voyager, is currently working for a Sci Fi site called MeeVee. I check out his column there regularly, but this one had me laughing my behind off.

Greg's MeeVee

A Finish politician is running for office and looking for the younger vote in a whole new way...by making his entire site in Klingon. LOL! (Sorry...can't help that reaction.) He has an English version for those who aren't Trekkies, but...that got me thinking.

It caught my attention for the following reason....

Recently, when NASCAR and Harlequin made their deal, there was a lot of grumbling on a few author lists about how distasteful people found the "product placement" aspect of this agreement. But, why should it?

Politicians have never been shy about this, making public statements in this fashion. Remember Clinton and his McDonald's trips? Just a regular guy like you and me, right? Most public figures, from authors to actors to politicians make their statements by what they say they read, wear, eat... We are a culture that subdivides by product placement and identity.

Chick Lit is based on characterization through product identity, more or less. You can tell a lot about a character by what he/she wears, drives, where he/she shops and eats, what entertainment he/she engages in, books he/she reads, etc.

In fact, most genre books set on Earth-as-we-know-it, esepcially contemporary but also historical, use a certain amount of cultural identity in the form of music, TV/movies, and products. I've even used products in my futuristics...where they MIGHT be in 50 or 100 years. Stephen King once said that there were no brownie points for ignoring popular culture. He's right.

Now, there are rules for using trademarked items in your books, but most of the established authors know them.

1) Always capitalize a trademarked term. It's Kleenex, not kleenex, for instance.
2) Try not to dilute a trademarked term. Sometimes your character (especially one from the south) will CALL all soda "Coke" and sometimes a tech-field character will call his work radio BY the name of the company that makes it, usually "Nextel," but other than that sort of charater quirk, don't use trademarked terms to mean a generic item.
3) Use of a trademarked term in a postitive manner is fine. Use of it in a negative manner is not. If you have your heroine drinking Pepsi, that's fine. If the villain is going to poison a shipment of it, make up a brand name (and check it on Vivisimo, before you use it to be SURE it's not a real brand) or call it "cola" or "soda."

So, what...if anything...is actually wrong with product placement as a cultural backdrop in books...besides the fact that it MIGHT date the book, which some editors shy from? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

I have learned that some people consider NASCAR a negative image for a romance hero and not the positive one that NASCAR and Harlequin think it will be. That was interesting to me. I suppose NASCAR's survey didn't take non-NASCAR fans much into account on that one...though at least one person who told me this WAS a NASCAR fan.

No, I'm not insinuating the old redneck crap about NASCAR, because NASCAR fans come from all walks, I know. (Neither do I believe the "results" of their survey, as they reported them, having to do with reading habits of the NASCAR fan vs. the non-NASCAR fan, but that is another subject. In fact, it's one I covered a few weeks back.) Yes, a lot of these men are highly educated, but the travel, greasy hands, long hours, hardships... It's not seen as very romantic by some people who responded to my query about this on lists.

Just some thoughts on product placement in books. Stick to the rules...and consider that the association may NOT be the positive one you were hoping for.


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