Product Placement

I have to admit I get annoyed with blatant product placement in movies. I don’t mind something subtle, and I love it when off brands are used. But blatant advertising pulls me out of the movie.

So this past week I was working on the first draft of the sequel to my story and had a character pick up a book to read. We all know the advice that if you are going to have your character sit, make them sit on something. A hardback chair, a sofa, an orange crate. I figured I’d better not have this character just read a book, so I had her pick up a Susan Schreyer mystery. It was the first thing I thought of as I’d just been talking to Susan.

I’ve read favorite authors who have their characters interact with specific books, sing along with specific music, admire specific paintings. I didn’t think anything about it.

Until I suddenly realized, I just committed the sin of product placement. Had to laugh. I then asked Susan if she minded, which of course she didn’t.

Have I succumbed to the crass world of advertising? Man, I hope not. I’d rather think of this as a writer giving her story world verisimilitude.  However, I’d love to hear what other writers and readers think of this level of detail in a story. Should it be there to bring a world to life, or is it product pushing? I’m thinking it will be like all things in life. Balance. Just the right amount of product, placed in just the right hands at just the right moment so that it is seamless and almost transparent.


Here’s a product placement photo, taken in Wallace, Idaho. And why would it be considered advertising? Because it is where the Wallace Mining Museum and the Oasis Bordello Museum are located, which figure in my stories. A historic mining town with the interstate soaring in a world of its own high above the history and hidden stories.

Wallace Idaho

9 thoughts on “Product Placement

  1. I never think of a real piece of art as product placement. If there’s a corporate angle to the thing being placed, and a probability of money changing hands (I think it’s reasonably easy to to tell) then I get ticked off. It takes me out of the movie or whatever, too.

    While reading, I would probably mark the page so I’d remember what book to peruse next at the bookstore, but I don’t think your kind of ‘placement’ would bother me at all. First of all, it sounds realistic in context and second, kinda sweet.


    • I agree with Ré! If you’re not getting paid for it, it’s not product placement, it’s specific detail. 🙂

      You know another kind of product-mentioning I’ve noticed in books? When someone doesn’t mention the brand, but is highly specific about what it is or what it looks like, to the point where you stop reading and ask yourself, “Now what might that be?” Sometimes it works, sometimes it takes me out of the story. (The kind of thing I mean: “She strode into the room, all curves and hauteur, her income screaming itself out from the cut of her hair, the shape of her sunglasses, and the single, instantly recognizable symbol blazoned across her tight black t-shirt.”)


      • Oh, that is annoying. I want to tell the author, just spell it out and be done with it. After all, naming the item would use a lot less words and allow you to move into the part of the story that matters.


  2. I think you are on the right track Lisa, if you do it the way you described. I actually like things like this in a book, since I always think it is a bit of the author. I mean would he/she have her main Charakter drink Pepsi if he/she is a Coke person??? And unless it doesnt fit with the charackter you usually pick things you like, so people like me and Sparks In Shadow would look up the book you mentioned…


  3. Hi Lisa, describing the type of book that a character picks up to read isn’t what I would consider product placement. What I consider product placement is a bottle of Miller draft specifically being mentioned. I mean, you don’t need to name the brand of beer that a character drinks a lot of to get the picture across that they are a drinker, but by describing the genre of book a character likes to read helps to flesh out a character. But then again, I am “only” a reader not an author.

    Hollywood films are usually blatant in the product placement that they use as is American Idol/X factor in the fact that the judges have a glass of COKE sitting in front of them. Although the word Coke is blurred, the general public can still tell that the glass says Coke on it.

    You are the author if you want to promote a favourite book of yours then that is up to you. You aren’t being paid to mention the book. Does any of this make sense?

    By the way…I just finished the Memory Keeper and it was great. Very easy to read. I still can’t believe you killed off Kelly lol!


    • Mariane, you’re here! What a nice surprise. Your words make perfect sense. Bringing the character to life is what it’s all about. And hey, I remember stories you wrote, so don’t try and tell me you don’t have some writer down in there. I loved your stories.


  4. I agree with both of you. It all comes down to balance and common sense. I look up books and music mentioned in books, too. And in blogs, like we did when posting about music a while back. Re, you sent some great music my way.


  5. Lisa, you are so right about brands going out of style and how that can date your story in future years. I’ve talked to writers about that before, when brand name clothing is used in a book. And how, years from now, will that brand be recognizable. It’s the same when you see an author describe a character as looking like a specific actor (which of course most of us know not to do!). This is a good argument for picking and choosing what you name vs. what you describe, carefully.


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