June 21st, 2006
Teen Novel Is Given The Corporate Make Over
By Dalya Alberge
The Times (of London)
A novel for teenage girls that includes product placement for a make-up manufacturer has been accused of manipulating young readers.
Cathy’s Book is the story of a 17-year-old girl who tries to find out why she was dumped by her boyfriend — and it comes complete with tips for using Cover Girl make-up.
In return for the product placement, Cover Girl’s manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, apparently agreed to feature the novel prominently on a website it runs for designed for teenage girls.
One passage in Cathy’s Book refers to a “killer coat of Lipslicks”, a reference to a line of Cover Girl lip gloss. It is thought that the passage originally referred to a “killer coat of Clinique ‘Black Violet’ lipstick” but was changed after Procter & Gamble and the authors, Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman, struck a deal.
Executives at Procter & Gamble and its Beinggirl website, which offers advice on make-up and other teen-related subjects, apparently agreed to promote the book if Cover Girl could be incorporated into the narrative.
Gary Ruskin, of the US consumer group Commercial Alert, said: “It is not unknown for works of fiction to advance political and other agendas, but this crosses a line. Cathy’s Book is in the form of a novel. But in reality it is an adjunct of a corporate marketing campaign.”
The New York Times said that sales pitches in books aimed at teenagers “could raise questions about the vulnerability of the readers”.
Esther Rantzen, president of Childline, told The Times: “I always get uneasy when the line between editorial and advertising gets blurred.”
However, the book’s US publisher, Perseus Books Group, said the criticism was “disappointing”. David Steinberger, the president of Perseus, said that the relationship with Cover Girl would be disclosed in the book’s copyright page.
A spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble, Marian Baker, said that the company had been approached by the authors and was excited about supporting “a literary project that was so innovative and entertaining”.
She added that there was no “paid” product placement and that the “partnership” meant that the Beinggirl website would feature content from the book.
The authors of Cathy’s Book previously worked as marketers for Steven Spielberg. Their book will be published in Britain by Bloomsbury in August.
* In the 1890s the Lumière brothers featured bars of Sunlight soap in their early films
* BMW reportedly paid £11 million to have James Bond switch from Aston Martin to their sports car in the 1995 film GoldenEye
* Bulgari paid Fay Weldon in 2001 to feature its jewellery in her novel The Bulgari Connection