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Using teen chick lit novels to teach marketing.

Abstract

This paper will outline how the author uses the sub-genre of teen fiction referred to as teen chick lit to teach students the marketing concept known as product placement. The paper provides the rationale for using fictional teen focused novels as a vehicle for teaching product placement as well as an overview of the teen chick lit genre. A discussion of the value of using teen fiction in class, student project, its success and issues raised are also discussed.

Background

On June 27, 2006 the David Frankel film, The Devil Wears Prada, based on the 2003 hit chick lit novel of the same name by Lauren Weisberger, debuted in theatres across America. The Devil Wears Prada, written in 2001, tells the story of the relationship between the editor of a fictitious fashion magazine, Runway, and her aspiring young assistant. Based, some say, on Anna Wintour, the real life editor of American Vogue magazine (there are other international versions), the novel was on the New York Times bestseller list for six months and was eventually translated into 27 languages.

It was this film, The Devil Wears Prada, and the genre of fictional novel from which it came, chick lit (literature), that captured my imagination and prompted me to begin researching if other books within the chick lit genre also contained as many product placements (brand insertions) as those found in the film as well as throughout the book on which it was based. It was this research that eventually led me to begin thinking of using these fictional chick lit novels as a way of reinforcing the concept of product placements in my marketing classes. It is important to point out that in many ways chick lit books are a reflection of teen society, especially the impressionable 12-17 year old female demographic.

Introduction to Chick Lit

According to (http://www.chicklitbooks.com/whatis.php) the chick lit genre can be defined as "a genre of books that are mainly written for women. The books range from having main characters in their early 20's to their late 60's. There is usually a personal, light, and humorous tone to the books. Sometimes they are written in first-person narrative; other time they are written from multiple viewpoints. The plots usually consist of women experiencing usual life issues, such as love, marriage, dating, relationships, friendships, corporate environments, weight issues, addiction, and much more."

In 2000 a new form of women's fiction titled "city girl books" emerged from Harlequin publishers. It was these "city girl books" that were, in fact, the predecessors of today's chick-lit. Better known for their bright pink covers with pictures of shoes and cocktails than for their story lines, chick-lit would eventually grow to become its own sub-genre of women's fiction. Exceedingly popular with women in the 20-30 year old demographic, chick-lit plots focus on the everyday circumstances of women's life; friendships, work, female/male relationships, and shopping (including shoplifting), sometimes to the extreme.

Not unlike the British music invasion of the 1960's, chick-lit had its beginnings in Britain with the publication of Bridget Jones' Diary in the fall of 1996. This book written by Marian Keyes is today considered to be the godmother of the chic-lit genre. As is the case with other chick-lit novels, Bridget Jones' Diary held to the basic chick-lit formula, "woman's life disintegrates, woman's life changes radically after many mishaps, woman comes out stronger, happier person in the end" (Yardley, 7, 2006). In addition, standard topics also include "pop culture, high fashion, and urban settings" (Yardley, 8, 2006) as found in the Candace Bushnell book and HBO television series Sex and the City.

The growing popularity of the chick-lit novels is evident in the level of commercial success they have enjoyed. "In 2002, for instance, chick-lit books earned publishers more than $71 million" (Ferris & Young, 2, 2006). This unforeseen success prompted several publishers such as Harlequin, Broadway, and Pocket Books to create separate imprints dedicated to the genre" (Ferris & Young, 2, 2006). Red Dress Ink, an imprint of Harlequin that "was determined to launch and heavily promote American and British novelists using the distribution machine they had perfected with romance novels. Quickly thereafter, Simon and Schuster came out with the imprint Downtown Press. Avon Trade, Kensington's strapless imprint, and many others followed" (Yardley, 8-9, 2006).

Using Fiction as a Teaching Aid

In 2001 two university-level teaching aids entered the marketplace. These resources targeted to the teaching of business management were entitled, Using Film to Visualize Principles and Practices of Organizational Behavior and a companion volume entitled, Using Film to Visualize Principles and Practices of Management. These two teaching guides, authored by Joseph E. Champoux of The Robert O. Anderson School of Management at the University of New Mexico, represented an effort to use various media, in this case film, to aid in the teaching of basic business management concepts.

Every instructor, regardless if it is kindergarten or at the graduate school level, is faced with the challenge of presenting their material in as effective a way as possible, not simply to entertain their classes but to make the material as interesting and, if possible, relevant to their lives. Marketing, by its very nature, provides numerous ways to accomplish this. Marketing is something that we as consumers in a free and open marketplace cannot escape.

The use of collateral materials whether print, film, or electronic in order to enhance learning is worth investigating. For several years, I have included books from the popular press to reinforce various marketing concepts. Books by Paeo Underhill such as Call of the Mall and Why We Buy have become required reading in both my undergraduate and graduate classes. I have not, however, used fictional novels in my classes; that is not until I came upon chick lit and more specifically teen chick lit novels.

A literature review revealed a number of entries dealing with the use of fictional novels as aids in teaching business ethics, women's studies, workforce socialization, economics, and accounting. In addition to the subject areas mentioned above, these articles also referenced using fiction to teach composition. In an article written by John R. Dorocak and S.E.C. Pervis of California State University, San Bernardino entitled, Using Fiction in Courses, "Why Not Admit It?", the authors reinforce what others have to say with regard to using fiction in their classes, "Intuitively, many academics suspect that this approach will educate students to real-life situations and consequences in a way that is engaging and fun for both the student and the professor" (Dorocak and Purvis, 2004). However, no entries could be identified as specifically using fiction as an aid in the teaching of marketing.

Teen Chick Lit Fiction: A Chick Lit Sub Genre

Unlike chick lit with its story lines focusing on issues commonly facing either extremely wealthy and/or working women in their 20's and 30's, some even older, teen chick lit focuses its storyline on the impressionable female high school demographic; in actuality the age of readers of teen chick lit novels is even younger with some readers as young as 12-14. Story lines can be summed up with the following quote, "It's not enough that a girl meets a guy and writes hilariously in her diary about it. She also need to have a quirky job and a gay best friend and a mom who ends up dating the dad of the guy she's into, and on top of all that the writing has to shine" (Alderdice, 2004).

Teen chick lit novels also include numerous references to various types of electronic gadgets as well as other forms of technology favored by this demographic such as email and instant messaging. Also mentioned are consumer products such as Palm Pilots, iPods, digital phones and the latest cell phones. However, it the repeated references to high priced cars, alcohol, cosmetics, and most importantly clothing and accessories that fill the pages of these novels.

Using Chick Lit Novels to Teach Marketing

Using a genre of fictional novel, more specifically teen chick lit novels, to reinforce the learning, understanding, and communication of marketing concepts becomes obvious when looking into the substance of these fictional novels and specifically relating their content to the basic marketing concept of product placement. In the case of teen chick lit this could not be clearer. Whether the novel is part of The Clique series or Gossip Girl series, both are targeted to the 12 and older market, or the A-List series targeted to 17 year olds, each series reinforces the concept of product placement through their continual references to very high-end clothing, cars, hotels, magazines, stores, and high tech products. For example, the chick lit book, Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes (2004), provides a vivid example of just how many high end brands are specifically mentioned throughout the book. For instance, there are 37 mentions of alcohol including 19 for the Bellini cocktail (champagne and peach puree); 15 mentions of cars including the Jaguar XJS and Mercedes; 99 references to designer clothing and household brands including 19 for Chanel and 13 for Chloe; 52 references to cosmetics and cosmetic accessories including 10 for the Bergdorf Salon; 19 mentions of handbags including 5 for the Hermes Birkin Bag as well as Louis Vuitton and Prada; 86 mentions of hotels such as the Ritz Paris (19), the Pierre in New York (5) and the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles; 31 mentions of magazines including the International Harold Tribune, and 39 mentions of high end department stores and boutiques such as Hermes, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.

Teen chick lit novels contain constant references to a lifestyle that would be envied by almost anyone but especially by impressionable teens as well as the upwardly mobile businesswoman and stay-at-home mother. Contained in these books are examples of teen aged girls who think nothing of paying $800.00 for a pair of Jimmy Choo sandals and then sell them at their school tag sale because they are no longer in fashion after one season. Everyone, except those few individuals who are not part of the group seems to be driving a Lexus SUV, BMW convertible, or Mercedes (great examples of how these products are mentioned, positioned and targeted to this demographic). They drink only imported beer, usually Heineken, Dom Perignon champagne, and either Grey Goose or Keitel One Vodka. Along with cars, alcohol, cigarettes (usually Marlboro) there are the limitless mentions of clothes, shoes, and high end stores.

In effect, "Major marketing campaigns promote teen chick lit, and can be found in junior versions of women's magazines like Teen People, CosmoGIRL, Teen Vogue, as well as on the internet, and through film versions of popular books such as Cruel Intentions, The Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Mean Girls, Ella Enchanted, A Cinderella Story, and Lizzy McQuire" (Waters, 2004).

The Assignment

My principles of marketing classes are comprised of a total of 115 students in three undergraduate sections plus an additional 27 students in my undergraduate consumer behavior class. After reading several of the books myself I realized that having my classes read them would offer them a real life example of product placement. I then made the decision to include in my syllabus an assignment that would specifically involve researching product placement in teen chick lit novels. In order to impress upon them the importance of the assignment I decided to have the assignment comprise 50% of their final grade. Due to the unconventional nature of the project I was more than curious as to student perceptions of the assignment. I was pleasantly surprised when several students told me that they actually looked forward to it because it was so different from projects they worked on in their other classes.

Each class was divided into teams of four (students were allowed to choose their own team members). Each team was then given the opportunity to read either eight chick lit novels, two novels each, or an entire series of teen chick lit novels, in most cases eight books per series. Although the emphasis was on teen chick lit some students expressed a desire to read chick lit. Since selecting chick lit would provide a contrast to teen chick lit I agreed to let two groups in each class select this option.

Each team was instructed to underline or highlight specific pre-selected products found in the story lines from seven specific categories which I had pre-selected. The categories were not presented in a hierarchical manner but were classified based on how frequently they were mentioned. These products included alcohol, cars, clothing (including shoes), hotels/resorts/spas, personal hygiene products, food/non-alcoholic beverages and electronics/gadgets.

Students were instructed to use the raw data as the basis for writing a detailed analysis of their findings which was then presented by each group to the class in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. By requiring each team member to participate in the presentation it also fulfilled a requirement for students to refine their presentation skills. The presentation was an overview of three sections that comprised the student's projects. The first section was the gathering and compilation and of the raw data. The second section was an analysis of their findings illustrated through the use of pie charts and bar graphs. The third component was the PowerPoint presentation to the class comprised of what they considered to be the most significant findings.

Issues Raised

In discussions that followed the presentations students expressed concern with several ethical issues involving marketing high end products to what they considered to be an overly impressionable demographic. Students addressed issues such as the level of pressure placed on single parents to purchase these goods, peer-pressure on students to have them, and whether authors should identify products by brand thereby providing free advertising. This was a result I had not expected. I was interested in the number of products mentioned and if they related in any way to the titles of the books and story lines. Several groups also discussed the relevance of the cover in attracting readers. This was also unexpected.

Conclusions

Considering the different nature of this project student response was extremely positive. Several students specifically mentioned that they had rarely been involved in a project that was interesting and reinforced a concept as well as this project. Students indicated that they learned how broad the subject of marketing was, how it had the power to influence impressionable social and socio-economic groups and the impact that product placements can have on family dynamics. Students also indicated that they were basically unaware that product placement was being used in so many ways, especially in books. Several students even conducted additional research on product placement in movies, television programs, video games, and even comic books for extra credit. Not only will I continue to use this assignment in future semesters but I will expand it to include the categories mentioned above with regard to the extra credit projects.

References

Anonymous: (2003-2005). http://www.chicklitbooks.com/whatis.php

Alderdice, Kit (2004). "Chick Lit for Teens and Tweens." http://www.publishersweekly.com/index.asp?layout=articleprint&articleid= CA480067

Crawford, Norlisha T. "Using detective fiction to teach about race, class, gender." http://www.busknell.edu/In the News/For-More_News/ Detective_Fiction.html

Dorocak, John R. and S.E.C.Purvis (2004). Using Fiction in Courses: Why Not Admit It? Law and Literature Spring 16, 91.

Ferris, Suzanne and Mallory Young (2006). Chick Lit: The New Woman's Fiction. Routledge, New York.

Lamb, Charles W. Jr., Hoseph F. Hair, Jr., and Carl McDaniel (2006). Essentials of Marketing. Thompson, New York.

Waters, Jen (2004). You Know they Want Them: The Current Trend of Teen Chick Lit Novels. School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, the University of British Columbia.

Yardley, Cathy (2006). Will Write for Shoes: How To Write A Chick Lit Novel. Thomas Duane Books, New York.

Peter A. Maresco, Sacred Heart University

Maresco, Ph.D., is Clinical Assistant Professor of Management at the John F. Welch College of Business
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Article Details
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Author:Maresco, Peter A.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 2007
Words:2675
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