Product Placement is everywhere. Today you can’t see a movie, a TV series, or even a ‘candid’ celebrity photo in New Idea without some form of it. Master Chef was debated in advertising circles last year for over-doing the product placement when Matt Preston got down on his hands and knees and cleaned up a spill with some ‘Handee Ultra’ paper towel, after which followed a ‘coincidental’ advertisement for the product which he personally endorses. However, one place where I thought I’d never encounter blatant, purposeful product placement was in books. But alas, I have just finished reading ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ and it was everywhere!
The book was rife with it. ‘We bought her an iPod for her Birthday…’; ‘…he turned on his Apple iBook…’; ‘…the apartment was decorated with IKEA furniture…’; …she fired up her Kawasaki…’
At first I ignored it, thinking that iPod’s and IKEA furniture were justifiably a part of society and time period/scene establishment that it seemed quite normal. But it went on. The lead character, Lisbeth Salander, purchased a new computer and it listed all the features and benefits, which really added nothing to the story. I don’t know what the RAM of the new computer she bought had anything to do with anything!
It was blatant. But was it endorsed? Did Apple and IKEA and everyone else pay off Steig Larsson to be mentioned in the book? It’s been debated, but no-one knows for sure. Unfortunately Mr. Larsson died before the publication of the first book, so it can never really be confirmed or denied (unless the publishers added the mentions posthumously – again another debated point).
The online debate rages. The Pro’s delve into the symbolic meaning of the use of the brands – they represent the social status of the characters; firmly set the time frame in a different way than the traditional ‘November 2011’ chapter intro, and embrace branding like any human would. After all, we all notice brands, even if it’s subconsciously. We all notice that a computer is an Apple, or the character is wearing Nikes, even if no-one says it out loud.
The Cons just think it’s selling out a great story, and was completely unnecessary page-filling.
Are we ready for product placement in books? The bulk of the commentary would suggest no. All the while the world gears up for the uptake of digital books – can we stay away from it then?
An interesting debate, and I’d love your thoughts.