Advertisers Try a Subtle Sell on Publishers

By Carmen Comment

The Washington Post’s Anita Huslin checks in on advertising’s latest efforts to market their products within the pages of books and how the line between art and ad is ever-blurred. As an example, she uses Mark Haskell Smith‘s commissioned crime story from Lexus, which is running in quarterly installments on Lexus‘s website and in its magazine. It’s all part of what’s called “seamless brand integration” a buzzword that means books, cartoons, video games and even television shows are now the hottest vehicles for advertisers to get their products in front of a target audience. So Smith, who aside from writing crime novels (his third, SALTY, is due out later this year) also writes for television and film, shaped his story “to be really cool and different and literary.” He says, “It doesn’t read like an ad.”

Product placement is hardly new; go back to Dickens for its earliest incarnation, but more recent efforts include Fay Weldon‘s THE BULGARI CONNECTION, Beth Ann Herman‘s POWER CITY and Melanie Lynne Hauser‘s Super Mom novels (for which Swiffer has given Hauser free products to give away on her blog, along with other promotional opportunities). For his part, Smith says there was little the company did to encroach on his artistic freedom in writing the serial novel, other than to question his assertion that you can’t find a good taco outside of Los Angeles and to nix a sex scene. “I wanted to have this little scene, because you can talk about how nice the seats are, how they recline, how they’re really soft. And actually they have these seat coolers in the car, and they really work. I thought, fantastic, you can have hot output on the cool seats. But they thought: No . . . that was too much.”

melanie-lynne-hauser.gifRon adds: Melanie Lynne Hauser writes in with a clarification: “While CONFESSIONS OF SUPER MOM does center around Swiffer products (as the heroine gets her superpowers after suffering a Horrible Swiffer Accident), I don’t view it as ‘product placement,'” she explains. I was simply searching for an identifiable brand or product that would make sense in the context—since she’s a mom, housecleaning was my first idea—and Swiffer was such an instantly recognizable term…and I was already a Swiffer product junkie long before I wrote the book!” Procter & Gamble reacted with good humor and enthusiasm, but everything they’ve done to help promote the Super Mom series followed her spontaneous creative decision. “I certainly didn’t write the book with the goal of some kind of corporate sponsorship in mind. But in today’s publishing climate, I don’t think that’s a bad thing anymore,” she says. “It would be different if every book got the same promotional opportunities from publishers, but we all know that doesn’t happen.”