Monday, August 18, 2008

Product Placement

Product placement is everywhere these days, and I don't like it. You've seen those movies where the cereal boxes are carefully arranged so that you can see the brand names, or when the characters are carrying their expensive coffees with the labels facing the camera, and so on.

I just came across an example that was particularly jarring, and not a little disillusioning. I was reading Tony Hillerman's book, The Shape Shifter. I always enjoy his novels and feel that they give me a chance to learn a bit more about New Mexico and its native peoples. My enjoyment was interrupted when an old Navajo woman, pointing out where a neighbor's house was located, said something like: He lives right up there. You can see his house on the side of that hill. He's home, because I can see his big Dodge Ram truck parked there. Quite a truck. Very powerful. (I'm paraphrasing, as the book is now back at the library).

I thought that was curious, but I kept on reading. It happened again, and again--references to Dodge trucks, always very obvious, and very, very out of place. Later in the book Hillerman's character, Joe Leaphorn, is having coffee at a diner and thinks to himself that it is good coffee, but not up to the standards of Dunkin' Donuts' coffee. Now, that struck me as very odd, because Dunkin' Donuts is an eastern franchise and, although it may be moving west, there aren't any in Joe Leaphorn's territory as far as I know. Searches on the Dunkin' Donuts website didn't bring up any locations in New Mexico, although I couldn't be sure, due to an awkward location search interface. Perhaps you'll have better luck. [Note: Thanks to Val--see the comments below--I now know that there are Dunkin's in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.]

So now I am officially disillusioned. Why would Tony Hillerman, a successful and award-winning author, stoop so low? Does Dunkin' Donuts send coffee and donuts to him in New Mexico? Did Dodge give him a free truck? If so, I hope he's finding the gas mileage satisfactory.

By the way, another reader noticed the frequently mentioned Dodge trucks in Hillerman's book. See Bruce Tracy's review on Amazon. You could also read the Washington Post article, Read Any Good Ads Lately?, about marketers commissioning novels. Now there's a concept.


Sylvia K said...

It is amazing the lengths companies will go to get their name in front of people, blatantly or otherwise, but it is annoying to find them invading my favorite pastime -- and that's not checking out ads for a new puchase, coffee or trucks!

Val said...

Interesting! I had not thought about product placement in books. I have not read many Hillerman books - has this been something he has done in the past? Maybe this is a way smaller authors can actually make money! As for Hillerman....

There is a DD in Santa Fe. Small and strange. And there is one in Albuquerque near the university.

Rain said...

That is interesting. I knew movies did this but hadn't thought about novelists. I wonder if there was a payoff to Hillerman. Dodge trucks are more common in some areas than others. Like in Montana, you see (or did will check when there this month) more Dodges than other makes. So is it an ad or a personalizing of how the people see them and how is real on their areas?

I always hesitate when writing my own blog about when to mention products that I believe in even though I get nothing from doing it other than maybe readers who do a search and find my review. Same thing could be said for the books or films we review.

When I was first into blogging I was asked if I would read books by a certain publisher if I got them given to me to review. I said I would but I'd tell the truth about how I saw them. They said fine which was the last thing I heard from that company.

Once in awhile I am somewhere that I think would be interesting to others to know about and I usually ask permission if it's something like a vacation rental or some store. I have yet to receive any offer of money for it though. I haven't done negative reviews (other than of politicians) as some do but that could come sometime, I guess.

Some bloggers have a lot of ads alongside their blogs for which they are paid; but I didn't like that idea; so never did it. If someone does though and makes money from it, it's not a problem to me although if they didn't use the product, then it'd seem dishonest.

Margie's Musings said...

Yes, it is amazing. I'll tell you why they do that name dropping on TV. It's because so many of us mute commercials anymore. I guess name dropping in a book is just another way of getting paid for commercials. I would never read another book of someone who would do that though. That's the only way they will ever learn not to do it. Book sales should drop off...especially is you write a letter to the editor of your newspaper and expose it.

clairz said...

I hope that someone else will read this book and tell me what you think. There are just too many very blatant Dodge truck plugs as far as I'm concerned.

Rain said...

I think we have every book Hillerman has ever written. My husband has read them all. I have read all but the last two. I didn't have a reason for not reading them but had put it off. I have Shape Shifter and will try to read it on vacation next week. It would surprise me of Hillerman got paid for doing this but maybe it's a publisher thing and you do it or don't get the newest books promoted or published. I don't know but will see what I think when I read it. It would be disappointing if so as he is a well respected writer of the region, mysteries, and even interesting characters.

Rain said...

Okay, I read Shape Shifter and looked specifically for Dodge Ram which was there a couple of times (might've missed a few). It was also in Sinister Pig, which I had to read first as it also was one I'd put off but only once in it.

I do not personally think that it was product placement for Hillerman. I think it was his way of detailing everything. He does it with roads, religion, the people, all of it. You know how it goes-- driving down highway 40, then turning west onto 6. Over under that mountain lives an old lady who has goats. Well used to, wonder if still does. Then onto gravel road-- It's Hillerman's style. And I do know there are a lot of Dodge Ram in that kind of country, don't know about on the rez but certainly in Montana and the Plains. The ultimate truck to many rural people.

This was an interesting book for the plot but it had so many missed points and confusing aspects that it was a long way from his best. I wondered if he's laying out an outline and has someone writing them for him as there were some things I just didn't think he'd have done. Like what's this with Leaphorn just retiring when he retired many books ago and you can't put it back in time as Chee just got married. I don't know if he figures readers don't stick with him or what. Also so many coincidences that didn't make sense but were required to make it work out. Plus the things Leaphorn did that didn't make any sense. I could go on but I do read anything Hillerman writes but this was a long way from his heyday.

Jean said...

I've been pondering and pouting about product placement a lot lately as I watch the olympics. Little do the sports equipment companies (like Nike) realize that I spend more time looking for blank spots on the athletes' clothing than I do looking at the 5,280 Nike decals they each sport as they sprint/swim/leap for the gold. What's next... Nike tattoos across their foreheads?

Of course I see the things I'm trying not to see... and Nike knows that. Pout. My only consolation is that I have very little reason to shop for Nike sports gear anymore so their product placement is lost on me. Hah! Take that Nike!

ok, so maybe I'll be getting a little endorsement check for the six times I mentioned Nike in this comment (make that seven). Hey, us athletically challenged old gals gotta eat too. Now where did I leave my keys? Gotta drive to the mailbox and pick up my latest Nike endorsement check. (Eight! I'm rich!)

Jean said...

p.s. regarding this blog.... I just might spend the day here today. You are such an excellent writer. And I've fallen so far behind that it'll be like curling up with a really good book.

clairz said...

Rain, because of your comments I went back to the library and checked out The Shape Shifter again. Here is what I found.

The mention of Dunkin' Donuts was this: "The pastry was good. Not quite up to Dunkin' Donuts' high standards, but very tasty." (p. 3)

Dodge Ram trucks were mentioned on pages 110, 112, 133, and 165. I could have forgiven these--after all, Jeep Cherokees and Ford trucks were also mentioned twice--but here is the one that screamed product placement to me, found on p. 201, when a lady was giving directions to a house: His was the little house with the flat roof and the big barn behind it, and that vehicle by the barn looked like it might be his. "That great big Dodge Ram truck," she said admiringly. "Has diesel power, four-wheel drive. Quite a truck."