Bulgari Connection

1315210910000 » Tagged as: embedded marketing

“…white gold and pavé diamonds, cold metal intricately, beautifully worked, lain heavily against the cool, moist flesh of wrist and throat”. This is not a line from a jewellery advertisement, but from Fay Weldon’s novel, ‘Bulgari Connection”. The novel is also an advertisement and the copy was written by Weldon, paid for by Bulgari, the jewellery and watch maker. It is claimed that she had to use the brand name Bulgari at least twelve times in the story, and she was paid £18,000 for doing it.

There were many comments on the book, as probably the first attempt by a popular novelist to use her skills to promote a commodity in the guise of a novel. It could be that Weldon had copywriting too in her blood, at least she had the exposure and experience at Ogilvy and Mather (advertising agency).

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, president of the Authors Guild, had called it the “billboarding of the novel”, and one blogger used the term “Vulgari”.

The danger here for the literary world is that even Weldon's agent, Giles Gordon, had said that he loved the idea. "Does it matter if you are paid by a publisher or paid by an Italian jewelry firm?" he said. He added that he would recommend product placements to other clients, too. The current crop of "chick lit" novels and memoirs about the lives of young women offers potential for touting vodka, cigarettes, clothing and other brands, he said. "The sky is the limit."

Before Weldon’s book came out in 2001, the novel had remained unsullied by advertising, except perhaps for ‘Power City’. Beth Ann Herman had received a $15,000 party at the Wilshire Maserati dealership in Beverly Hills for her new novel about the ‘’sizzling, unforgiving world” of Hollywood public relations, she featured a Maserati whose ”V-6 engine had two turbochargers, 185 horsepower and got up to 60 in under 7 seconds.” Randall Rothenberg also claims that “She also won a window display of her book from Giorgio, the luxury-goods shop in Beverly Hills, for mentioning the store as one of the ”opulent temptations of Rodeo Drive.” (New York Times Jan 13, 1989).

Before Herman, there had been other writers. There were allegations that Jules Verne had been paid by shipping companies to get their brands embedded in ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ which was serialized in 1873. Melanie Lynne Hauser had used a Proctor & Gamble housecleaning product in her Super Mom series, just because she needed to mention a known brand, which had prompted P&G to promote her series.

Hemingway had used brand advertising for self-promotion. He had appeared in an advertisement for Ballantine Ale, for Pan American Airlines and even for Parker 51. “Great success is not possible without a certain degree of shamelessness, and even of out-and-out charlatanism.” Marie-henri Beyle (Stendhal) had said. Herodotus had paid for his own book tour in 440 B.C. Tony Perrottet quotes from Balzac “that it was standard practice in Paris to bribe editors and critics with cash and lavish dinners to secure review space, while the city was plastered with loud posters advertising new releases. In 1887, Guy de Maupassant sent up a hot-air balloon over the Seine with the name of his latest short story, “Le Horla,” painted on its side. In 1884, Maurice Barrès hired men to wear sandwich boards promoting his literary review, Les Taches d’Encre. In 1932, Colette created her own line of cosmetics sold through a Paris store.” (New York Times 29/4/2011)

It is a very common practice today to use ‘embedded marketing’ or ‘branded entertainment’ in television programs and tele-dramas, where the helpless viewer cannot escape the propaganda. It had begun in the days of the silent films, with a Hershey’s chocolate in the film ‘Wings’ (1927) and Wrigley’s chewing gum in the film ‘M’ (1932).

‘Soap Opera’ came to stay with us as soap makers P&G, Levers and Colgate began sponsoring radio plays, even long before the arrival of television. Today the ’soap opera’ is replaced by ‘reality shows’.

How long could the novel survive, without been taken over by big business and their advertising organizations? How long would it be before literary agents would have to go after advertising agencies to get a publishing contract for their authors?

Herodotus to Weldon they were all using their creativity to write what they wanted, and once written they had to find readers for their works. They had to build up an awareness about their works and also an image about themselves. Some of them also wanted to earn a living. Who could judge their actions and decide if it was right or wrong?

In Europe and in the Asian countries the artists, poets and writers had royal patronage, or the support of the church or big merchant families. No one criticized them for that. King Saul was a patron of the arts who commissioned certain songs from the lyre of David, and David himself became a patron of the arts during his long reign as king.

There is a bright side too, to this development. This could boost book sales, revive the reading habit as its side effect. Copywriting too needs creativity, the ability to empathize with the targeted consumers. They have to create attractive, catchy, precise dialogue for their television advertisements, create story lines that could reach the consumer and forceful enough to develop brand loyalty for their clients. These copywriters could have an opportunity to write novels and short stories, while novelists turn to copywriting through their novels. The two professions could merge.

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