An interesting, if not particularly original, leading article in today's New York Times about advertising and product placement.
It's a commentary on a novel, Cathy's Book, that is aimed at young women and contains tips about putting on make-up throughout the narrative. It just so happens that the manufacturer of the featured make-up, Cover-Girl, has undertaken to heavily advertise the book on its web site for teenage girls.
So a nice bit of quid pro quo, and what is wrong with that you may ask? The opinion article bemoans the loss of any barrier between literature and commerce, and goes so far as to suggest that advertising provides the most material – 'content' – in a young person's life.
Perhaps this is so. The implicit theme of the article is that marketing has overtaken art in young people's lives seems alarming on the surface, but only if you assume that people are incapable of seeing through the marketing hype and are incapable of divining any deeper meanings.
Personally, I think young people, and people in general, are a lot more savvy than some think. A clever advertisement can stimulate interest and discussion, but I haven't known many people who run out and buy the product without carefully thinking about it. People like to be the same and they like to be different; young women reading Cathy's Book may all be exposed to Cover Girl make-up, but some will chose another brand, some will chose not to use make-up at all.
Paradoxically, product placement as obvious and as clumsy as this may end up having quite an opposite effect from that intended.
Does that mean I like or approve of this practice? No, but that's largely because I find advertising offensive, manipulative and intrusive. But that's just my take, and is hardly a universal opinion. The reality is that, in a capitalist economy, you cannot avoid advertising anywhere – even on the web page where I read the NYT article there are banner ads.
Better to be made aware of it through clumsy product placement efforts than not.