Title: The Bulgari Connection
Author: Fay Weldon
ISBN: 0871137968 (hardcover) / 0802139302 (trade paper)
Pub date: November 4, 2001
The Bulgari Connection is a book, but I'm not going to talk about the book, partially because I haven't read it (not that that's stopped me before) but mostly because the book isn't the point.
The story (of the book, that is, not the plot of same) goes like this: Fay Weldon was approached by the Bulgari jewelry company with an, at the time, novel (sorry) idea - they offered her a sizable (and still undisclosed) sum of money to write a fictional story that centered as much as possible on their products. Weldon one-upped them, offering to include their brand, not only in the content, but in the title itself. In doing so, Weldon sparked a controversy among the press about the fine line between art and advertising, generating news stories that applied the label of 'sellout' with such force that, for a second, it was almost possible to forget that the mainstream informational media, the people who have been pushing that boundary for close to fifty years, were coming off as hypocritical assholes.
It's not like product placements in mass media are a new idea - the progenitor of the idea, at least the one that people point to and say 'well, look what he did so long ago!' was Ian Fleming - James Bond might have oozed charisma and charm, but those Aston Martins he so loved to drive didn't materialize out of nowhere. The difference is the medium itself (books are considered to be the last bastion of intellectual thought in many parts of the world and are supposed, I guess, to be free from all this marketing pressure) and by the fact that Fleming himself was never paid by anyone to include their products in his novels. They appeared for color and scene-setting, not as a raison d'etre.
Weldon's novel is important because it was a first. The book was released in 2001, and nowadays we don't even blink an eye at a title like "The Devil Wears Prada." It's old news.
In the trade, at least in some circles, the sponsorship of a work to the detriment OF the work is known as 'the Bulgari effect.'