have a coke and a simile

Product placement comes to the novel.

Published October 8, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)


While attending the movies recently I was impressed by your ubiquitous representation on-screen (the Coke cans in "Men in Black," the blown-up vending machine in "Face/Off"), not to mention your fine work at last year's Olympics. I am a writer currently outlining my third book, and I've decided to extend you an incredible offer: the opportunity to place some product in my new novel.

The book tells the story of a sensitive middle-aged engineer who, following a troubled childhood, marries badly and is thrown out of work for drinking on the job. After his wife (Ellen) sabotages his perpetual motion machine, he goes on a bender and drives his pick-up truck (Sarah) into a local reservoir, where he's arrested. But he only spends one night in jail because, well, he's Joe -- everyone knows him, he's a swell guy, just a bit down on his luck.

For $800 I'll write a scene in which, after his wife leaves him, Joe goes down to the kitchen, opens the door of the fridge and discovers that his wife has taken all the cold cuts with her -- in fact, taken everything -- except a single can of ... COKE. Joe laughs, takes the can, pops the cap and drinks it. He smiles. Refreshed, he grabs a shotgun, goes outside and shoots up all the petunias in the back yard that his wife planted the previous spring. (They may end up being begonias -- I'm not sure about this yet.) But I think it's a good scene, and your product would be represented well -- it would, in fact, be the agent of Joe's catharsis.

That doesn't grab you? How about this: A beautiful flashback scene in which Joe remembers an experience with his father who died when Joe was 14. The scene goes like this: Joe and his dad are in the backyard of their old house in Clairmont. There's a row of 12 COKE BOTTLES filled with varying levels of water. Joe's dad puts a paternal arm around his son and shows him how to purse his lips and blow into the bottles, making a musical sound. They sit there for a while, playfully blowing into the bottles, trying to perform "Yesterday" by the Beatles, though not quite making it, and bursting out laughing at their own incompetence. Then Joe's dad starts coughing -- "Are you all right, Dad?" "Yeah yeah, fine, son. I just gotta go inside for a bit ..." The dad shuffles off, coughing all the way back into the house.

That's right: Cancer. He dies three months later. The Coke Bottle Moment was the last positive memory Joe has of his dad. This scene is yours for $600.

OK, try this on for size: There's a mean mutt dog that runs around the neighborhood, biting kids and digging up people's yards. He poops everywhere and smells real bad. His name? PEPSI! Four-hundred bucks. For another $200, I'll have him get run over one day -- BY A COKE TRUCK! Too gruesome for you? How about if I reverse the conceit? I'll have a NICE neighborhood dog, retrieving newspapers out of the rain, warning kids away from roadwork, etc. I'll call him Coke. And then have him run over by a Pepsi truck ($800, complete).

I think you'll agree that these are very moving scenes, and the placement of your product will be subtle, but very affecting. The novel will be about a man whose entire belief system is challenged at every turn. He loses his job, his dog, his wife, even his pickup truck. But just as his life seems most meaningless and he has decided to kill himself, he sees an ad in the local newspaper: "Engineer Wanted. Must have experience. Apply at local COCA-COLA BOTTLING PLANT ..." That's right -- Coke Is It -- it saves his life! He takes the job, and we see him, in a sort of montage, working happily at the plant, cheerily hobnobbing with employees, laughing over private jokes, drinking cans of The Real Thing. He gets a new wife, a new dog, a new pickup. Coke is the redemption of his life. $1400.

If you're interested in any of this, I can send you reviews and sales figures of my previous two novels, the estimated demographics of my readers and my tour itinerary (I covered 12 cities in two weeks). Although I received no recompense for it, in "Devils Beware" I included a car chase in which an Acura Legend beat out a Ferrari on the way to New Orleans (a gambling boat is about to be blown up by a Sri Lankan terrorist unit). Sales of Acuras jumped by almost 30 percent the following year. I'm not saying my book was the only reason. But I think it certainly contributed to their success.

Don't dilly-dally on this. I've already put some feelers out to the people at Dr. Pepper, and don't think they aren't interested.

I look forward to your reply.

By J.B. Miller

J.B. Miller is the author of a novel, "My Life in Action Painting" (Grove Press). He lives in New York.


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