Waters, Barbara (2021) A Novel Form of Product Placement? The Use of Fashion Brand Names in British Chick Lit. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Several studies have noted the frequent use of fashion brand names in contemporary fiction, but to date there has been little academic research into this phenomenon and the effect that it has on the reader. This study therefore set out to address this research gap. Focusing specifically on chick lit (a type of contemporary popular fiction, typically featuring and aimed at young women), the present study aimed to explore the use of fashion brand names in women’s fiction, concentrating on the relationships between fashion brands, authors, fictitious characters and readers, with a view to establishing whether there might be potential commercial benefits of fashion brand product placement in chick lit novels.

A mixed methods approach was used to explore the topic from multiple perspectives. A summative content analysis was undertaken to investigate the frequency, variety and types of fashion brand names used in a corpus of 19 chick lit novels drawn from the Bridget Jones, Shopaholic and I Heart series. A qualitative analysis of the novels in the corpus focused on the ways in which the characters interacted with fashion brands in the text. An online survey of 166 chick lit authors was used to explore why writers use fashion brand names in their work, and a survey of 96 female students was used to investigate readers’ response to fashion brand names in novels.

The study findings indicated that chick lit authors use fashion brand names to support characterisation due to the ability of fashion brands to express the values, self-concepts and stereotypes of their typical brand users. The outcomes of the consumer survey suggested that readers use textual cues, including those related to fashion consumption, to help them to develop their impressions of characters in novels, however the study was unable to demonstrate a clear relationship between readers’ perceptions of character personality and brand personality.

In terms of product placement, the findings confirmed that readers demonstrated high levels of recall and recognition of fashion brand names used in chick lit narratives, but no evidence was found to indicate that the appearance of brand names in the text had an impact on consumers’ brand attitudes. Readers were found to be broadly positive about the use of brand names in novels, indicating that they preferred to see real brands, rather than fictional brands, in books. Readers appeared to have no significant objection to commercial product placement in fiction books, provided that such placements were accompanied by a disclosure. The results of the study therefore provide support for the proposal that chick lit novels are a potential product placement medium for fashion brands seeking to generate brand awareness. The frequent mentions and positive treatment of fashion brand names in chick lit mean that it would be relatively easy to incorporate paid-for placements of fashion brands in chick lit novels without compromising the narrative.

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