by Mike Masnick

Product Placement Or A Novel? Does It Make A Difference?

from the blurring-the-lines dept

For quite some time, we've been pushing the idea that advertisements are content and that content is an advertisement. If you don't view the two as being the same thing, then you're bound for trouble. In a world where captive audiences are disappearing, you simply can't get away with advertising the traditional intrusive and annoying way. The only way to advertise is going to be by doing so in a way that people want to find your content, no matter how it's presented. For some reason, automakers seemed to have figured this out a long time ago. BMW had its BMWfilms effort years ago. Honda had its famous "cog" commercial. Now it appears that Lexus is trying something out as well. It's paying a writer to put out a novel where a Lexus is part of the story. Of course, this leads to all sorts of questions about whether or not advertising is taking over certain forms of media -- but the fact is that the lines were blurred a long time ago. If the book is no good, it's not going to matter either way. No one will pay much attention to it. The point is that, if such things are going to work, the content has to be able to stand on its own. But, now, between Lexus coming out with its own books and Burger King coming out with its own video games and movies, it's interesting to see the claims from the traditional industry that there's simply no incentive for creating books, software or movies without strong copyright protection. In these cases, the companies supporting this content would rather it get shared far and wide -- because they know it helps promote their products. In other words, it's yet another example of alternate business models to get content produced without having to worry about piracy -- and, in fact, to be happy when it occurs.

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  • identicon
    Jezsik, 21 Feb 2007 @ 1:44pm

    BMW did the novel idea first

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nick D (profile), 21 Feb 2007 @ 2:25pm

    This makes it sound like ads are like Creative Commons licensed works. Actually, the are almost the same. Some authors make Creative Commons words as and advertisement of themselves. And something like sharing BMWFilms won't bother anyone because it is not seen as IP theft (unless someone tires to sell it).

    This makes the notion of selling music videos or using short versions of music videos on p2p to drive traffic to a site with a full music video with yet another commercial (from a couple of posts ago) in it even stranger.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yehuda Berlinger, 21 Feb 2007 @ 2:29pm

    This idea is centuries old

    I am reminded of the scene in Anne of Green Gables where Anne is paid 25 dollars for writing references to Rollings Reliable Baking Powder into a love story she wrote. (Her friend Diana actually slips in the references, against her knowledge).

    One can only presume that this was happening for quite some time before then.

    So why exactly are we arguing about it in 2007?


    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nick D (profile), 21 Feb 2007 @ 2:30pm

    I meant to say "Some authors make Creative Commons works as and advertisement for themselves (the author of the work)."

    And back to the though on music videos, they want you to "pay" in some way if you want to see the video, as if you are already a fan. But, if you are not yet a fan, they want you to see a music video because you are a prospective fan, in which case it is free. So, they just want to know if anyone would pay or not, and if they will charge them, even though the traditional motive to create something like a music video is to promote record sales.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    mmrtnt (profile), 21 Feb 2007 @ 3:38pm


    I got this weird vision of Hollywood putting cheap movies in theaters in order to sell fast food.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kevin Cummings, 21 Feb 2007 @ 3:43pm

    Ian Fleming Gave It Away

    One of the things that made the James Bond novels so popular was the fact that Bond lived in the real world and used real products. From his beloved Bentley to his underpowered Baretta, he was anchored in our reality.

    The sample passages in the linked article about this don't read much differently from the Fleming texts. So, if this author has figured out a way to get a bit more cash from the marketplace, I salute him!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    4-80-sicks, 21 Feb 2007 @ 4:01pm

    I have long thought that the government should produce content or goods to make money instead of taxing the citizenry. I don't see why it couldn't work, except that they never would since they have a monopoly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Crosbie Fitch (profile), 21 Feb 2007 @ 4:03pm

    Art is a conversation between artists

    Imagine trying to converse and yet be prohibited from using any of the same words used by the previous speaker.

    Art is not the start of a conversation or the end of it, but the words in the middle.

    It is only copyright that forbids conversation, as if a strict librarian who would have you look, but not discuss.

    Art is an artist's ambassador.

    That art promotes is its nature.
    That copyright bans unauthorised promotion is art's perversion.

    We are all artists.

    It's time we threw the librarian outside and conversed freely.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    William, 21 Feb 2007 @ 4:46pm

    So if the content is free or paid for by the company that supports it. Does the writer get paid per copy read or is some lump sum arrangement that they come to with the advertiser so the content can be freely distributed.
    Because if it is latter than that would seem to encourage a mediocre product.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bromo, 21 Feb 2007 @ 6:25pm

    It's called custom publishing

    Granted, the business model is terrible as is the unflagging allegiance to print and the failure to understand user generated input, but isn't this what custom publishing is all about? Look at Yahoo!s brand universes (, for example)--a brilliant custom project, albeit w/o a sponsor.

    The sad fact is that it is not just marketers who foil great brand publishing (let's not quibble about format or 2.0ishness). It's also the editorial folks who (typically) don't care about markets. For most editors, it's all about the info, not about how to serve a brand-- a relic of ye olde Chinese wall, church/state bullshit.

    Well as Grace Slick once said, it's time to tear down the walls motherfucker. But who's got the sledgehammer?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael Long, 22 Feb 2007 @ 3:05am


    "'s interesting to see the claims from the traditional industry that there's simply no incentive for creating books, software or movies without strong copyright protection. In these cases, the companies supporting this content would rather it get shared far and wide..."

    In all likelyhood the "author" has already been paid by the corporation for a work for hire, and it's that work (in your half-dozen examples) that's being distributed, again, as you pointed out, as a marketing ploy.

    As such, he (and the publisher) is no longer concerned with recouping his advance. Something that, amoung the thousands of books published each year, is the rare exception, and not the rule.

    In addition, it's rather obvious that a good portion of these stunts rely strictly on the novelty value. To take your car ads for example, the fact that BMW did it, and received a great deal of attention for it, lay solely in the fact it was unique and as such stood out from the crowd. However, if every automotive manufacturer tried to do the same thing for every model every year, the end result would largely be ignored.

    Or to put it another way, the approach simply doesn't scale.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tim Kunisky, 22 Feb 2007 @ 3:47pm

    Similar Case

    The Bulgari Connection was a novel published in 2001, whose author was paid £18,000 by Bulgari to mention their name in the novel (at least 12 times, Wikipedia tells me). This is generally considered the first "sponsored novel", as this writing is referred to.

    Frankly, it is quite a desperate move by an author to make money from including a brand name. Novels are not mechanisms to deliver advertising to consumers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 20 Sep 2008 @ 11:35am

    Ian Fleming and Rationing (re: #6, Kevin Cummings, Ian Fleming Gave It Away).

    The thing you have to understand about Ian Fleming was that he was a man of his time, writing for other people of his time. England was under rationing for eleven years, from 1939 to 1950. First there was the Second World War, then there was "Austerity," a continuation of the wartime economic regulations to enable England to get back on its feet economically. The rationing was extremely fair. Nearly everyone got what they needed, starting with the children in school. However, a lot of people had to do without things they merely wanted. People ate all kinds of strange things which government dietitians had determined were cheap and nourishing, and they often ate in government cafeterias ("British Restaurants"), which were pretty much like school lunchrooms. A lot of people had to spend time explaining to government bureaucrats why they needed things, and a lot of people got involved in various kind of scams to get things they merely wanted. Among other things, it was the age of the "spiv," the black marketeer, someone who operated pretty much like a drug dealer, only he sold cigarettes, or whiskey, or gasoline, or nylon stockings. Englishmen were not allowed to travel overseas without special permission and/or spending restrictions, because the foreign currency they would spend was needed to buy things like machine tools.

    If you read British popular fiction of the period, it is full of people wanting stuff they couldn't have, starting with food. You can see this in Nevil Shute, and in Grahame Greene. You can especially see it in women writers, because of course, rationing was most felt by whoever did the daily shopping, and had to work out compromises. Look at Barbara Pym and Margery Allingham, and to a lesser degree, at Agatha Christie's later books. Ian Fleming published his first James Bond book in 1953, and went on writing them until his death in 1964. One of the major themes in the James Bond books is travel, and specifically travel to vacation resorts. Similarly, the fantasies about exclusive restaurants have to be seen against the reality of the British Restaurant. About the same time that Ian Fleming died, Barbara Pym found that the publishers no longer wanted her books. Ian Fleming might have faced similar problems. A new generation was growing up which had never experienced the Second World War and its aftermath.

    When the Bond books were made into movies, the fantasy element shifted away from consumer goods towards access to high-tech, at the same time that the audience became more American and less British. At that time, circa 1970, high-tech was mostly military, and access tended to be restricted to people who had spent years working their way up in the service. But that fantasy only lasted until personal computers came along.

    What this means is that the Ian Fleming formula will not work anymore. We live in the age of WalMart, not the age of Austerity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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