Product placement is the oldest trick in the book

Paid product endorsement in novels has caused a furore among the literary elite. But why make a fuss now? Authors have been at it for ages, says Iain Murray

News that the British author Carole Matthews is being paid by Ford Motor Company to feature a Fiesta car in her next two novels was greeted with consternation in literary circles. “Where will it all end?” they cried. But it seems their concern comes too late – product placement in books has been around for years, as the following excerpts show.

This, for instance, comes from one of Dickens’s handy synopses:

“A chapter in which is described how Mr Tupman, with many disagreeable eruptions, swears a testimony to the remedial powers of Andrews Liver Salts; Mr Weller the elder delivers some critical sentiments respecting the merits of KFC Spicy Zinger Salad and with the assistance of his son Samuel disposes of an unwanted repast in a horse’s nosebag; Mr Alfred Jingle astonishes the company with news of an improved suction machine newly available from the manufactory of Mr Dyson, and Mr Snodgrass, begging to differ, essays a demonstration of the superior merits of a broom, his injuries not being serious; Mr Winkle encounters Mistress Susannah Constantine and her fashionable companion Mistress Trinny Woodall and enters into wager whereby, if chance should favour his endeavour, he shall accompany the said ladies on a &£10,000 shopping spree, his singular regret being that he should imbibe a substance, to wit Nescafé; and the Fat Boy is introduced to the Kellogg’s Drop-a-Jean-Size Challenge.”

Raymond Chandler was at it too:

“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, the sky lay heavily on the mean urban sprawl like a cadaver on a slab. I was wearing my FCUK t-shirt kind of loose at the waist, with combat slacks from High and Mighty, Nike sneakers, and John Lewis socks with the diamonds up the side. I was cool, unshaved and hungover, and I didn’t care who knew it. I walked up Main Street, past Dixons, past Superdrug, past Ann Summers. Well, almost past. I paused at the window, flicked my Zippo, lit a Lucky, and clocked the dummy broad with the crotchless panties. I shrugged. You see a lot of dummies in my game. I walked on till I saw that familiar sign, the one with the big Yellow M. I pushed the glass door and went up to the counter. I meant business. I had an inner man to feed and he didn’t like waiting. Then she turned and walked over. She had class written all over her. And all over was where I was looking. She had a cute baseball cap, lycra trousers creased behind the knee, and a badge pinned where other dames have busts. It said Tracey.

‘Can I help you?’ she said, looking straight at me with her good eye. My pulse took off like a three-card dude with the cops on his tail.

‘Give me a Big Mac Meal and easy on the ketchup,’ I said.

‘Anything on the side?’ she said in a voice so husky it could have pulled a sled.

‘Some other time,’ I said. ‘Right now I’ve got a job to do. How do you get the straws out of this container?'” Ernest Hemingway did it his way:

“You know how it is when you get out of bed. You walk across to the wall and the mirror is on the wall and you see your face and you know you had too much the night before and you smell like the sun-baked latrine behind the bullring at Pamplona, the place where the men go. That is how I smelt that dry day. The day when there was no sun.

‘I need a shave,’ I said.

‘Yes, you need a shave,’ I said again.

You know how it is when your soul wants a dialogue and there is only one person and that person is you.

So I went into the bathroom and there was a cabinet on the wall and inside it was Head & Shoulders hydrating shampoo and Garnier Lift anti-wrinkle cream and Pearl & Shine Nivea Lip Care. I cursed softly. No damned Colgate Sensitive Skin Shave Cream with added aloe vera.

‘That is the way it is,’ I said.

‘Yes, that is the way it is,’ I agreed.

It was going to be one of those days.”

And last but not least, and no doubt to the surprise of some, Jane Austen was neither too proud nor prejudiced to accept a deal:

“Mr Darcy, drawing near Elizabeth, said to her, ‘Do you not feel a great inclination, Miss Bennet, to seize such an opportunity of dancing a reel?’

She smiled, but made no answer. He repeated the question, with some surprise at her silence.

‘Oh!’ said she, ‘I heard you before, but I could not determine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say yes, that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste, but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have therefore made up my mind to tell you that I do not want to dance a reel at all – and now despise me if you dare.’

‘Calm down, dear,’ he said. ‘It’s only a commercial.'”

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