On 20th October 2014 Alexandra Alter published an article in New York Times titled E-Book Mingles Love and Product Placement. She described an interesting development in the field of product placement in books.

The main protagonist of Hillary Carlip’s new novel “Find Me I’m Yours” is a quirky young woman named Mags who works at an online bridal magazine and is searching for love in Los Angeles. However the novel has another prominent character: Sweet’N Low, the artificial sweetener.

Hillary Carlip's 'Find Me I'm Yours'
Hillary Carlip’s ‘Find Me I’m Yours’

Ms. Alter reports that Sweet’N Low appears several times in the novel in subtle and not-so-subtle ways:

“In one scene, Mags, a Sweet’N Low devotee, shows off her nails, which she has painted to resemble the product’s pink packets.

In another, she gets teased by a co-worker for putting Sweet’N Low in her coffee. “Hellooo, isn’t it bad for you?” the friend asks. Mags replies that she has researched the claims online and found studies showing that the product is safe.”

According to Ms. Alter the Cumberland Packing Corporation, Brooklyn-based company that makes Sweet’N Low, invested about $1.3 million in “Find Me I’m Yours.” Besides the e-book there are also a series of websites and web TV shows, and a vehicle for content sponsored by companies.

For more details on marketing activities with that book I suggest reading the article from New York Times.

Sweet'N Low
Sweet’N Low

My initial views on product placement in books were mostly positive. I published several blog posts on brands in books. The first one was published four years ago. In the blog post Why it’s important to have brands in books where I stated that brands in books contribute to the realism of the novel.

But since I’ve been working in marketing for more than 10 years and have no experience in publishing whatsoever I wanted the view from the industry. I thought it was going to be an opposite view, but I realised that I can agree with everything stated below.

A publisher’s point of view

Caroline Goldsmith, founder of Red Button Publishing, an independent UK publishing house, shared her thoughts on brands in books exclusively for Brands&Films:

“Brands and products aren’t a new concept for novels. They can give a story a sense of time, a sense of place and in some cases, a unique way of relating to the reader. For example, using the term ‘Volvo driver’ to explain a character, has certain derogatory connotations to a modern audience, but are they ones that Volvo, as a company, would pay a writer to disseminate and promote? Probably not. There is a stark difference between using brands to illuminate a character or a moment in time and placing those brands there in order to promote and sell a product or a lifestyle, which is arguably what Find Me I’m Yours has done.

Audis in Fifty Shades of Grey (2011, Vintage Books, screen capture)
Audis in Fifty Shades of Grey (2011, Vintage Books, screen capture)

Product placement is almost impossible to avoid these days. Our entertainment and everyday lives are peppered with subtle and not-so-subtle pushes to consume something else. That’s why I think the idea of product placement within books is so appalling to many readers. Books are a sacred world where one can escape from the constant barrage of advertising.

But as books find their way online and into new digital spheres, it was perhaps inevitable that this would happen. And certainly with revenues and advances falling, I can see how money from corporations to mention their product 36 times in a novel would be attractive to both writers and publishers. I’m genuinely surprised at the sum that was agreed between Sweet’N Low and Hillary Carlip. However, were this to become the norm, it makes sense that large corporations wouldn’t be throwing their money at the latest debut novelist writing their potential prize winner. The money will go to established big hitters, already pulling in the cash from their fan-bases. What I’m saying is that a money injection from product placement isn’t going to enrich or enable our literary culture and, potentially, it could do it untold damage.

So, as a publisher, and as a reader I feel that this is a slippery slope. Books have been consistently devalued in recent years, in both paper and digital formats, and prices seem to be on a race to the bottom. I like to think that there are still crusaders out there fighting for the integrity of the story-teller and the virtues of fiction as entertainment worth paying for, but if consumers continue to demand content very cheaply, or for free, then it’s only a matter of time before our literature is seen as a vehicle for product placement and I think that will be a very, very sad day.”

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Let’s see the effects of Sweet’N Low’s integration in Find Me I’m Yours. The reported amount of money is huge and it will be interesting to see the development of this business agreement.

Red Button Publishing

Red Button Publishing is a small independent publishing company based in the UK. It was founded and is run by Caroline Goldsmith and Karen Ings. Both founders have many years of experience in publishing and they set up Red Button to bring fiction that might be overlooked by the major players in the industry to readers.