One Distracted Reader

Happy Monday! How was your weekend? Mine was busy, but productive, so I capped it off with a little bit of reading last night. Seriously, just a little—about 20 pages. That’s when I just couldn’t take it anymore. It’s also when I got a new idea for today’s post, and the old idea got thrown out the window.

I was reading a book by an author I normally like, and it was a book I was really looking forward to. But, in those first 20 pages, I found more than 25 product names dropped, including three Apple products used by two different characters (MacBook, iPhone, iPod touch). Not only were the names dropped, but the attributes of a lot of the products were discussed as well. Not cool.

Now I have no problem with the occasional product placement. For example, I read a book that referred to Pepsi several times—when the MC went to a restaurant, she always ordered it. When she was stressed, she longed for it. Still, it went well with the story line and wasn’t obvious. I will never know if the Pepsi was an actual product placement, or if the author just had an affinity for it. Maybe both.

In the book I was reading last night, however, it was distracting. I felt like I was reading one big commercial. I even had Pookie read a couple of pages (without telling him why) and he said the same thing. Even though all of the products were high-end (cars, jewelry, etc.), thus establishing the characters economic status, there was too much. Rather than showing something about the character—a addiction to Pepsi—this was simply distracting.

This isn’t just in books. One of my favorite shows is Bones. In the past year or so, Toyota started advertising during the show. Suddenly, every character is driving a new Toyota and spouting that amazing things it can do (”My Prius can…”). For some characters, this works, but for others it seems out of character and it is a distraction.

Maybe this is just me. A few years ago I took a mass communications course. One of the things we discussed was product placements in movies, in television, and yes, even in books. Ever since that section of the course, I seem to pick product placements out wherever they are. May I was just ignorant before, but now they jump out at me.

As I said, sometimes they don’t bother me. Sometimes they enhance the character or storyline. I may still notice them, but it is not an annoyance. I will even give credit that the scene wouldn’t have worked without the product.

I also understand why companies are turning to them. Given today’s technology, many people record every show they watch so they can fast forward through commercials (myself included). The publishing industry is struggling in a changing time. I get it. It is a way to make some extra money. And, as long as it doesn’t take away from the content, I have no problems with it.

Still, at some point, it become too much. I have seen it across platforms—books, movies, television—where it becomes a distraction. This particular book was probably the worst I have seen so far. It made it so I couldn’t read the book, because I couldn’t follow the story among too many commercial interruptions. It was similar to some stations that give you 3 minutes of program then 2.5 minutes of commercials. You just can’t follow the story.

Have I given up on the book completely? Probably not. The book is part of a series, so I really want to see what happens with the main character (which is another reason a well-developed MC is important). Will it be the usual fun, light read that the series is known for? Absolutely not.

So, that is one of my biggest pet peeves when I am reading (or watching television or movies). What are some of yours?

What are your thoughts on product placement? Is a little OK, as long as it enhances the story, or is anything too much? As an author, would you ever agree to allowing a product placement in your book?

From a different point of view, would you be willing to put up with more product placement (in television) if it meant the end of traditional commercials, a trend economists are predicting is in our future?

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About Susi Borath

Susi Borath finds time to write between freelance marketing jobs, minor league baseball games, creating new cookie recipes, and juggling more laundry than any two people should be able to produce. You can find more about her at http://susiborath.com or follow @susiborath on Twitter.
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6 Responses to One Distracted Reader

  1. Johnnie says:

    Good stuff, Savana. I have found that my experiences with product placement in mainstream media are based on whether or not I actually enjoy the product. If I enjoy the product, I am much more agreeable to its use (or overuse) than if I despise it. For example, I am not a huge fan of Apple products other than the iPod (which is essential to providing me with workout motivation), so I probably would’ve set the book aside as well. But if the MC was constantly referring to Jeeps, a favorite sports team, or brand of shoe, I am much more easygoing and would keep reading.

    I loathe commercials and TiVO everything so that I can fast-forward through those annoying advertising spots. I would be open to watching a 4-5min commercial before the TV show starts if it meant it would be commercial-free for the rest of the timeslot.

    • Savana Quinn says:

      Thanks, Johnnie! I agree with you that product placements are more tolerable of it I am, as long as it is not overdone. While I have a PC, I don’t mind Apple products; I will likely get an iPhone in the next few months. Still, I was really annoyed by the Apple product placement because it was so obvious and extreme.

      I did go back to it, and once you got out of the opening chapters, the product placements disappeared completely. Makes me wonder if the author really was trying to use the products to set the scene and was just a little overzealous.

  2. Kaye Peters says:

    I completely agree – about it being a great post and with what you said.

    I’ve read books, watched tv or movies where product placement is used well. It furthers the development of the characters. In one series I read Coke was the drink of choice and one of the characters was positively addicted to it. However, he stayed away from caffeine for a bit, then to have it all the time in the form of Coke was funny and moved the story along.

    On the other hand, when the dialogue seems forced and the characters seem to bring up the name of things just to name it, yeah, major problem with that. I’ve noticed it with Bones, as well, and it got old quickly.

    With that said I’m going to get off my wonderful MacBook with its durable purple Speck protective cover and go make the kids a pb&j sandwich with creamy Jiff peanut butter and sweet Welch’s grape jelly, you know its made fresh from their own vines. 😉

  3. 2blu2btru says:

    I took a class on culture in literature and other forms of media, and my last project was on product placement in the movie “Transformers.” Before the middle of the movie, my head was spinning. I movie I had enjoyed on multiple viewings was now one big product placement commercial. It’s been going on in movies for so long, many may not even notice it (as I didn’t until this assignment).

    As a writer, I don’t think I would add in a product. If I mentioned the product as part of setting a scene or establishing a character and the company wanted in on the action, that’s one thing, but I wouldn’t compromise the integrity of a story to accommodate a product placement. If a person has to order a meal, I could be persuaded that they go to a particular restaurant or get a particular soft drink, but I wouldn’t follow it up with “ah, this Sodalicious is so refreshing; it really hits the spot. Now, about killing your husband for you…”

    I remember being frustrated reading books with no name restaurants and products because author’s were afraid of being sued, etc. Now I’m frustrated when they use too much product placement. I was reading a book recently in which the main character goes to a well known city, and the mention of every landmark, famous shopping area, their specialty food, and the stereotypical character from that geographic location were all represented in a few pages. I wanted to punch my computer screen (I bought a kindle book and don’t yet have a Kindle, LOL). Sometimes these tourist placements get to be too much too!

  4. Pingback: Great Character In Need Of A Good Home | Have Coffee… Will Write

  5. Wow, great blog! I haven’t really read anything like this, but I do think that TV marketing is going downhill! I am thankful for my DVR and don’t watch the commercials.

    As for advertising in writing, I think the author should try and describe the car, phone or other product, otherwise, it makes the reader feel that the author is really an advertiser…just a thought! 🙂

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