Commercial Alert Slams P&G Tie-in With Young-Adult Novel

Calls 'Cathy's Book' an Ad and Asks Editors Not to Review It

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The deal: The authors of the upcoming novel "Cathy's Book," which includes references to Cover Girl cosmetics and BeingGirl.com, have inked a promotional partnership with Procter & Gamble Co.

The result: Although no cash exchanged hands and P&G's products were written into the book before the deal was made, the book is generating early backlash from Commercial Alert, which calls it a marketing vehicle aimed at young adults.


P&G's Cover Girl and BeingGirl.com appear in a new novel for young adults that Commercial Alert calls 'an ad, not a book.'



The advocacy group Commercial Alert has asked the nation's 300 book editors not to review a forthcoming teen title it says is little more than an ad for Procter & Gamble Co.'s Cover Girl cosmetics.

"'Cathy's Book' is an ad, not a book," said Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert. "It's suitable for conversation in business pages ... and it should be eligible for a Clio. But it's not a novel, so it's not suitable for book reviewing."

Multimedia experience

In fact, it's not so much a novel as a multimedia experience that directs readers to websites, some created specifically for the novel and others, such as P&G's BeingGirl.com, that promote it. The book comes with an "evidence kit" and a phone number in the title. The number leads to the title character's voice mail, which can be hacked using clues found in the book and evidence kit.

Within all this are about five or six references to Cover Girl or BeingGirl. P&G, in turn, is promoting the novel on the websites of both brands.

"The idea that the book is an advertisement is just completely misinformed," said David Steinberger, president-CEO of Perseus Books Group, whose imprint Running Press is publishing the title in October.

The title character, a 17-year-old who is investigating why her boyfriend dumped her and disappeared, lands a job drawing cartoons for BeingGirl, has a business card from the site in the evidence kit, and makes a few references to Cover Girl products.

Interactive agency

The book was already written when authors Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman began talks with P&G about a marketing partnership as an outgrowth of discussions they were already having about their interactive marketing company, 42 Entertainment, doing work for P&G brands.

Several other brands that have no marketing relationship with the authors also are mentioned, Mr. Steinberger said. "Like with any young-adult book, a lot of brands are mentioned," he said, which helped make the Cover Girl integrations "very seamless."

P&G has no contract with either Perseus or the authors and "no money changed hands," he said, though he felt it necessary to disclose the marketing partnership on the book's copyright page as well as in publicity. The deal was first reported in The New York Times June 12.

Starting in August, P&G will promote the book, whose full title is "Cathy's Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233," on BeingGirl, a website that promotes feminine-care brands Always and Tampax to teen girls, as well as on CoverGirl.com.

Approached by authors

"When we were approached by the authors of 'Cathy's Book,' we were excited by the opportunity because it was in support of a literary project we thought was really innovative and entertaining," a P&G spokesman said. "The structure of this book makes it more engaging and exciting for teens."

Mr. Ruskin compares "Cathy's Book" to children's board books prominently featuring such brands as Cheerios or M&Ms or to an erstwhile project in which the U.S. pharmaceutical industry contemplated backing a mystery novel that would scare people out of buying prescription drugs in Canada.

"I've gotten a couple of e-mails from editors who said, 'Thanks, we're not reviewing the book,' or 'We probably weren't going to review the book anyway, but now we'll be sure not to,'" Mr. Ruskin said.

The fact that the book is aimed at "impressionable teens" aged 13 and up makes the brand integration "particularly inappropriate," he said.

"We feel it's inappropriate for any group to discourage people from reading a book, reviewing a book, discussing a book," Mr. Steinberger said. "As a publisher in a free society, we don't think book bans, boycotts, censorship of any kind are healthy or productive ways to deal with controversy." Some of the greatest books of all time, such as "Huckleberry Finn," faced boycotts, he added.

Doesn't expect negative impact

Mr. Steinberger isn't sure how much positive impact support from P&G will have, but he doesn't expect Commercial Alert's action to have a significant negative impact. Young-adult titles tend not to be as widely reviewed as adult titles anyway, he said -- though he believes "Cathy's Book" should be reviewed.

"Booksellers who've read the early versions of it think it's extraordinary," Mr. Steinberger said. "It's a terrific book in and of itself."

Perseus already has closed deals for foreign subsidiary rights with five publishers, including Bloomsbury in the U.K. Those deals won't much help Cover Girl, distributed mainly in North America and to a lesser extent in China.

P&G doesn't seem to be concerned with Commercial Alert's request -- at least not officially.

"If anything, Commercial Alert's move will create a lot of buzz for a wonderful book," a spokesman said.
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