Sadly, this blog post is not about commercials about books like you would see about movies. If only that was a thing. Instead ‘book commercials’ is a term I have used to describe when you are reading a book when there is a sudden mention of a modern-day, relevant product. In other words, similar to product placement, but not really for financial gain on the part of the author but more to set the scene or to make the book more relatable.
An example. In the New Millennium Edition of So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane there is a scene that goes like this:
“A lot of kids got video of it on their phones, and there’d been much discussion about whether it was worth putting up on Youtube.”
Personally, I generally dislike when things like Youtube Coca Cola, The Big Bang Theory and the like are mentioned in books, though there are a few exceptions mostly for contemporary books. When I stumble into a mention of a modern-day product it more often then not throws me out of the story rather then adding to the scene the author is trying to create. I think in part it has to do with branding and it sounds like a commercial in the middle of my novel, hence ‘book commercials’. It’s not a technology thing as mentions of cells phones and texting in books don’t bother me but mentions of Facebook and Youtube do. A phone is a pretty generic and expected word to find in a story set in a time and place they should be a part of and not mentioning them would seem more out of place at this point in human history then mentioning them. It’s more when a brand or business is name-dropped in the middle of the text that it becomes an issue for me.
In the case above, it would have been better, in my opinion, if it was mentioned they wanted to put the video on the internet; it keeps the book up to date without throwing in ‘book commercials’ in the middle. If Duane would have written “put it on the internet” of course I still would have though of Youtube but it opens the text up to other places/cultural niches on the internet based on the reader’s personal experiences. It also seems less like product placement which I find throws me out of the story.
For example, someone from China reading “put on the internet” they might not have thought YouTube because (I believe) they have different major video and certainly have different chat sites then we do and it would make the book more personal to them. Sure the main character if the story the above quote is from is explicitly stated as living in New York and thus would be most likely to use a site like YouTube over the a preferred site in China, but at the same time having the ability to embellishing the details of the story, the grey areas, is part of the reading process and not leaving as many grey areas that are open to interpretation give the reader less of an opportunity to make the story something they can relate to.
I guess what I’m failing at saying is there is a fine line of setting the place and time of the story and giving enough details to get a clear picture of what is going on so the reader can imagine it and leaving enough out that the reader can embellish the story to suit their life and experiences. Also I dislike product placement in that books I read because most of the time it’s not done well and throws me out of the story.
So, am I making a mountain out of a molehill or are their others that feel similar to me? Additionally, would you like to see advertisements on TV or elsewhere featuring books, real-life book commercials?