A unique book project created by Sean Stewart and WizKids founder Jordan Weisman is at the center of a controversy over the appropriate use of product placement in fiction. The book in question, Cathy's Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8322, is interesting in its own right, an 'immersive experience' that follows Cathy as she tries to solve a mystery in which clues send the reader to Websites and phone numbers as it unfolds. But the thing that's gotten the attention of a wide range of media this week is the product placement in the book.
Weisman and Stewart are both involved with 42 Entertainment, where Weisman is Chief Creative Executive. Its Website says, '42 Entertainment helps clients bring their brand and product message to today's consumers through immersive entertainment-based marketing campaigns.' A campaign for Spielberg's AI was the first such effort, and spawned a new descriptor -- the alternate reality game -- to describe an experience in which the player is immersed in different aspects of the game from a variety of sources, usually including the Internet.
Weisman described the book. 'Cathy's Book... fully immerses the reader in an entertainment experience, taking them on the same journey as the novel's heroine,' he said. 'The story taps a rich vein of materials in both the on-and-offline worlds, creating a multi-platform experience that goes way beyond the pages of the book. The experience of reading and interacting with 'Cathy's Book...' is firmly grounded in great storytelling, and a world where teen girls feel comfortable and confident.' 42 Entertainment is creating the Websites and voice-messages that integrate with the book.
The book had already received a surprising amount of interest, especially for international rights, which have been sold to the
The controversy arose when Running Press parent Perseus Books announced this week that a deal had been struck between 42 Entertainment, Running Press, P&G's CoverGirl cosmetics, and beinggirl.com (also a P&G property).
The parties were brought together by Creative Artists Agency, which represents Weisman, according to an article in the New York Times, which also revealed that the deal was for CoverGirl product placement in Cathy's Book in exchange for promotion of the book on beinggirl.com.
The product placement substituted CoverGirl brand names for other brands or words at various points in the story. The beinggirl.com Website will run ads for the book beginning in August.
This revelation was followed by a blitz by Commercial Alert, an organization whose 'mission is to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children....' The organization sent an e-mail to editors around the country asking them not to review the book because the product placement makes it more advertising than literature. This, of course, has spawned more media coverage, all of which is going to spark a lot of interest in this new book/game/immersive experience.
Cathy's Book... is scheduled for release in September, a $17.95 hardcover.
Weisman was recently tagged the second most powerful person in the hobby games business (see 'ICv2 Top 10 Most Powerful').
The Alternate Reality Game category which Weisman invented (along with two other game categories this decade so far, by our count) has started to spawn new products, such as PerplexCity (see 'PerplexCity, An Alternate Reality CCG').