September 11th, 2006

Authors Strike Deals to Squeeze in a Few Brand Names

By Laura Petrecca
USA Today

Marketers have discovered a novel way to get their word out: embedding products in books.

The latest example is Cathy’s Book, a novel due out Oct. 2 about a teen determined to find out why her boyfriend dumps her, then mysteriously disappears.

Procter & Gamble wrote a deal with the authors to include products such as Cover Girl’s “Shimmering Onyx” eye shadow and “Metallic Rose” lipstick in exchange for promoting the book on P&G’s teen website BeingGirl.com.

Sweden-based appliance maker Electrolux commissioned a book it released early in the summer. Men in Aprons is the tale of a guy who has to master housekeeping after his girlfriend moves out.

The text doesn’t mention Electrolux, but the cover does, and the end of each chapter has tips for a tidy home with generic mentions of appliances (which Electrolux sells). Unlike Cathy’s Book, which will sell in regular book outlets, the soft-cover Men in Aprons is sold in Europe from Electrolux’s U.K. website for £6.99 ($13.09).

The motivation to commission a book for guys: “Single men are usually pretty hard to reach through traditional advertising and PR techniques,” says Electrolux spokesman Ulrich Gartner. “You wouldn’t expect them to read Good Housekeeping. So we said, ‘Why don’t we create a story that is fun and hip that they would buy, or have their frustrated mothers or girlfriends give to them as a present?’ “

In earlier examples, “chick-lit” author Carole Matthews agreed (for a fee she won’t disclose) to include the Ford Fiesta in her 2004 women’s novel The Sweetest Taboo. Jewelry company Bulgari paid novelist Fay Weldon for promotion in her 2001 The Bulgari Connection.

Books follow media trend

Such corporate-sponsored book commercials are part of the overall blurring of lines between advertising and entertainment.

Movies, TV shows, music videos and video games have gone well beyond simply having a product appear in a scene to inclusion of brands as part of the story.

Worldwide spending for paid product placement swelled 42.2% in 2005 to $2.2 billion, according to PQ Media. With non-cash promotion and barter deals included, the value of global placement in 2005 was up was 27.9% to $6 billion.

Matthews thinks authors deserve a piece of that. “No one bats an eyelid at all the product placement in films or the sponsorship of (shows) on TV, so why should commercial novels be any different?” Matthews said in an e-mail.

“Literary snobs might say otherwise, but all of the major literary prizes are sponsored by corporate money, so they don’t mind taking the corporate (money) when it suits. I’d advise any writer to give it a go if the opportunity arises.”

Expect to see more product integration in books — and all corners of pop culture — as marketers seek out new ways to reach consumers, says Mary-Lou Galician, head of Media Analysis & Criticism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

“It’s more and more difficult to reach consumers who are able to tune out ads that they don’t want,” Galician says. “The best way for advertisers to get their messages across is to put them in places where consumers have no choice but to see them.”

Ad activists see (lipstick) red

That has watchdog groups growling. When Commercial Alert learned of P&G and Cathy’s Book, it fired off letters to 305 book editors asking them not to review it. “This crosses a line,” it read. “Cathy’s Book is in the form of a novel. But in reality it is an adjunct of a corporate marketing campaign aimed at impressionable teenagers.”

Cathy’s Book authors Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman defend the inclusion of products.

Weisman says, “the book was completely written and illustrated” before one of his agents showed it to a P&G executive. He says the only literary changes were switching generic makeup colors and a mention of makeup rival Clinique to Cover Girl colors and brands.

P&G clout helps sell book

Besides, says Weisman, P&G’s promotional power helped sell the book’s unusual format: Cathy’s Book was designed to look like a high school student’s journal, complete with doodling on pages. Some of those doodles also feature the P&G brand: Scrawls on one page include “UnderCover Girl,” “Waterproof Mascara in Very Black” and “Eyecolor in Midnight Metal.”

Publisher Running Press plans a first printing of 120,000 copies of the 143-page hardcover.

Also sprinkled throughout the book are functioning phone numbers and websites that readers can call or visit. For example, readers who dial the cell number listed get the fictional Cathy’s voice mail.

“It’s a pretty revolutionary idea,” Weisman says. P&G’s “willingness to help expose an audience to this book was very helpful in getting bookstores and publishers confident enough to step up and take a risk on something so new.”

Matthews insists that the Fiesta deal didn’t color her vision: “All I had to do for the deal was cut out a handful of references to another manufacturer’s car and replace it with Ford Fiesta.”

Besides, she says, she was simply reflecting her brand loyalty. “I’d been a Ford driver for many years, so I didn’t feel as if I was compromising by saying that I liked them.”

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