About a year ago, I was desperate to review Dial L For Loser from the New York Times best-selling tween book series The Clique. I thought the title was hilarious and I wanted to see what sort of written culture the kiddies are consuming these days. Within the first ten pages, there were mentions of Ella Moss, Neiman Marcus, Prada, Range Rovers, and Chantico drinking chocolate (even hot beverages must be branded!). In fact, it broke down to 1.8 brand mentions per page, which is staggering when you consider that each page had about 160 words. The characters consuming these lux brands were supposed to be seventh graders. Well listen up kiddies, the brand-infiltration of books aimed at ten-to-twelve year olds is only going to get exponentially worse. A new series of books by HarperCollins and named for a heroine called Mackenzie Blue is offering brand sponsorship for each new novel before the books are even written.
The author of the books, Tina Wells, is not even a writer by trade; she is, according to the NY Times, "chief executive of Buzz Marketing Group, which advises consumer product companies on how to sell to teenagers and preteenagers." But this is nothing new: Clique series author Lisi Harrison used to be a Senior Director of Development at MTV and is the brains behind such classics as "Room Raiders." (Also, the middle schoolers in the Clique series are apparently grossed out by menstruation, but that's a whole other post. We miss you, Margaret, and your menses loving ways!).
Ms. Wells claims that brand sponsorship will not interfere with Mackenzie Blue's content. "Mackenzie loves Converse...Does Converse want to work with us? I have no clue. But that doesn't negate the fact that Mackenzie loves Converse," Wells told the Times. When reporter Motoko Rich asked her if she would refuse a lucrative contract from Nike even though Mackenzie is a "Converse girl," Wells said, "Maybe another character could become a Nike girl." Don't you see, brands won't be dictating her content at all!
Even worse is Mackenzie Blue publisher Susan Katz. "If you look at Web sites, general media or television, corporate sponsorship or some sort of advertising is totally embedded in the world that tweens live in," Ms. Katz said. "It gives us another opportunity for authenticity." [Cue gagging sounds here. -Ed.] The thing is, tweens may be beginning to resent the bill of goods YA novels are selling. In an Amazon.com customer review* of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Love-Sweet-Valley-University/dp/0553493477/r
ef=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1203450984&sr=1-1">Elizabeth In Love, part of the Sweet Valley High series but published in the aughts, reader "gt7941a" complains, "Note to author: bring back realism, excitement, romance w/o jumping into bed and LOSE the talk about what brand of makeup & clothing everyone is wearing. It used to be Pascal/John used phony names even for the mall stores & the only recognizable brand were Bruce's Porsche."
The only way to halt this seemingly unstoppable tide of brand worshiping is for kids to quit buying these books, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon. Some might argue it's good the kids are reading at all, since Americans are already reading fewer books than they did 10 years ago. Meanwhile, I'm tempted to only buy books published before 1980 for my (future) children. Or you know, cash in on this YA novel branding trend while it's still hot! Hey Reebok, I have a heroine I think you'd just adore!
*This review was spotted by Lizzie Skurnick, our own Fine Lines columnist and YA enthusiast par excellence.
In Books For Young, Two Views on Product Placement [New York Times]
More Debate Over The Decline Of Reading [Utne Reader]