Poll: Product placement in comics?

Last week, Scott Kurtz made some waves about how he was selling product placement in his comics. Pay a fee, and you get a mention in the illustrious PvP webcomic. (Details on his blog and at Comics Alliance.) Here’s Mr. Kurtz’s take on it:

And I asked myself, why *DO* I keep the strip off limits to advertising? I mention real products all the time. The PvP gang has played Dungeons and Dragons, gone to see every Star Wars film, quote Trek non-stop and choose Coke over Pepsi. I’m already doing it, I’m just not getting paid for it. And if you do it right, like in Mad Men, who would care? You know the dirty secret is that as comic strip creators, we’re really not supposed to mention actual products in our strips. That’s why when you watch reality TV, the producers go out of their way to cover up logos, and place gaffers tape across tee shirts. But we do it all the time and get away with it because as geeks, most of the products we mention are created by companies that “get it” and are excited to be a part of the culture at large. And the big corporations are…well…too big to notice. Or care.

So I started talking about it with my advertising guys. Mike and Jeff are smart cookies and they are very keen when it comes to navigating these unspoken relationships between creator, client and fan. We started to brainstorm and we decided that if we were to try something like this, a lot of things had to line up:

– The product would have to be something I believed in.
– The product had to be something I would comment on in PvP anyway.
– The client would have to be forward thinking, and geek savvy, and be able to poke fun at themselves.
– The client would have to understand that the inclusion of their company into the strip would have to serve the greater story or humor.

So what do you think, Webcomic Overlook readers? Savvy business decision, or selling out? Frankly, I’m not quite sure if Kurtz’s logic hold up here. It would be like the MST3K deciding that they’ve mentioned Smucker’s Jelly in their jokes so much that they deserve a sponsorship. In a way, it curtails the spontenaiety of the humor.

But that’s just my opinion. What do you think?


Posted on August 15, 2011, in The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Poll, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Personally, I saw Kurtz’s announcement and didn’t even blink. It seems natural to me that gaming nerds would get together with webcomics nerds and come up with some form of collaboration–especially in the cases where the webcomics nerds in question are already making comics about the gaming nerds’ products. It is possible to push it too far, and I’m sure a storyline about say Mountain Dew would do more than just raise eyebrows, but nothing Kurtz has done so far with this seems out of line or contrary to the spirit of his strip.

  2. Personally, I say sell out. However, most poor starving artists wont get too. Sponsors don’t care about nobodies. This really applies to guys like Kurtz, but who maybe starving but is in fact a semi famous starving. Am I envious? Yes. Am I specifically hateful of him for selling out? No, I hate him because he has a z in his name and well Godwin’s law…

  3. PvP has always been referential so I don’t really see this as Kurtz selling out or compromising his integrity. He’s always been a pioneer when it comes to funding and new revenue. Having said that, it seems like he’s edging towards acitive solicitation here and that’s a slippery slope. Bill Waterson would not approve!

  4. It’s not like I don’t plan to sell out as soon as I can, and I chose the first option in the poll, but Kurtz’s explanation about why he did it and why he thinks it’s okay just makes me queasy.

    It’s like he vaguely understands that product placement is wrong, and he should be ashamed, but he can’t really quite figure out why, so he just flounders around and can’t come out and say “I fucking need money, the end” OR invent an actually compelling reason to do it.

    The basic argument for product placement is that our world is filled with products and placement, but that’s also the argument against it: I mean, does our entire mental world need to be covered in fucking billboards? Doesn’t communication have a purpose other then moving money around?

    And you can’t really beat that argument by saying, “Well, I used to mention products for free!” because the fact you’re getting paid is pretty much incidental.

    Basically, after that whole spiel, Kurtz doesn’t have much cause to look down on the word “synergy”.

    • Exactly… it doesn’t follow that you should be paid for something just because you used to do it for free, and likewise you can’t assume that you will not be affected by the change. Money makes it all different.

      Still, this is hardly a surprise. I’m reminded of his monetization chapter in the book How to Make Webcomics, in which he says (roughly, I don’t have the book handy): “Never apologize for making as much money from your work as you can.” Luckily, though, he hadn’t had this idea yet when that book came out, but as Carson says, it wouldn’t apply to most creators anyway. I don’t think even Evony would pay to appear in my comic.

      • Exactly… it doesn’t follow that you should be paid for something just because you used to do it for free, and likewise you can’t assume that you will not be affected by the change. Money makes it all different.

        And even beyond this, the fact that nerd culture is so wrapped up in consumption, so heavily defined by keeping up with the latest releases from certain specific companies isn’t so much a defense of product placement as it is an indictment of nerd culture.

        And there’s a lot of questions raised by that, like, “Is that so different from being a film geek? Films are products too.” or, “Is there a distinction between being a fan of a company, such as DC, and being a fan of a person, such as Grant Morrison?” and a bunch of other stuff I haven’t much tried to think through.

        And the fact that Kurtz doesn’t address or even seem aware of anything like that makes his defense ickier to me then if he’d just said “Well, I need to make money off of this.” and left it at that.

    • “Doesn’t communication have a purpose other then moving money around?”


  5. I understand that the product fits in with the strip, but it seem as though it would be a hindrance at times. Like, “oh no, we haven’t mentioned MTG yet this month, I’d better come up with some strips to shoehorn them in”.

    I don’t really have that big of an issue with it, because if someone wanted to pay me to advertise their product in my comic, I’d probably do it (It’s not like I’m writing MAUS or something), but it still feels a little bit ‘Truman Show’ to me.

  6. The problem isn’t so much that he wants to do product placement but that he wants to do it inside of his existing comic. You can’t change your business model like this without damaging the existing comic.

    What he should do is follow Penny Arcade’s model and create separate comics for product placements. Penny Arcade has long created special comics for video games with a sponsorship from the video game company. The comics always had their own characters and own section of the website.

    Also, about his restrictions:
    – The product would have to be something I believed in.
    – The product had to be something I would comment on in PvP anyway.
    – The client would have to be forward thinking, and geek savvy, and be able to poke fun at themselves.
    – The client would have to understand that the inclusion of their company into the strip would have to serve the greater story or humor.

    If he is going to recommend it to his audience or would include it in a comic without them paying him already, what exactly are they paying him for? Do they get some control over the story line?

    He could really use some help here, because this looks like a PR nightmare but wouldn’t be that far from a great idea with some small changes.

  7. I’m just curious as to what the advertised companies are getting out of the arrangement that they weren’t getting before, sans payment. I mean does this mean that Kurtz will make mention of a particular product or service sooner than he might have otherwise, given that he says he would include them anyway? I figured the previous “product placement” of the non-paid kind was trying to characterize the PVP crew with their particular preferences for consumption. Do they really need more in that vein?

  8. Selling out. For sure. I’m not hugely against it because I don’t really think PvP is that great anyway, and Kurtz is just trying to make more money. I mean it’s his business. So it’s fair if hetries to expand it, but he’s definitely toeing the line of fucking up his art in a major way. If he thinks he can pull it off then I don’t see why he shouldn’t try, but i dunno. :/

  9. I wouldn’t. I despise advertising, and I refuse to have any of it on my website or my blog, let alone in my comic which, aside from that, does not contain any particular object that could place it in time, as it was always meant to be timeless. I freely place people in it, either because I like them or because it’s part of a reward they pledged for on Kickstarter. I actually have some scenes taking place in, respectively, a coffeeshop where I work on the comic and a pastry shopw I really like. But this isn’t product placement, no names are mentioned, readers not familiar with the places won’t even notice, and it’s a way of making my story even more personal to me and those familiar with the city where it’s set. But straight out placing products for money, hell no. I don’t care if it could finance the comic, corporations are not touching it.

  10. Webcomic creators have to invent their own ways to make money because nobody else is going to do it for us. Maybe this will work and maybe it won’t, but I’m not going to sit here and pick apart his idea before I even see it in action.

    • I agree. I’m interested in seeing how this works, because I’m assuming he’s going to be working on a product placement model popular with movies and televisions shows. Comics, as a sequential medium, does not have the same linear time as the two other media and I want to see how well product placement fits in.

      I personally think it will stick out like a sore thumb. In a movie product placement can last a few seconds or a single shot and we move on, where as a single panel is not afforded that luxury. If the product placement is done poorly, we can’t just move on.

  11. I’m just surprised he didn’t do this ten years ago…

  12. I don’t think anyone’s in a place to judge Kurtz right now, because we don’t know how much this thing is gonna affect the strip yet. I mean, yeah, it would suck if, in the future, every story arc centers around a product-of-the-month, but if he can be subtle about it, then I don’t mind.

  13. If Kurtz didn’t post a blog directly below his strip, then proceed to post antagonistic garbage running the gamut from attacks on fellow artists to his personal political views, I probably wouldn’t have dropped PvP years ago. So when Jade starts wearing logo-laden T-shirts and every soda consumed begins bearing a prominent brand, it won’t affect me and I think anyone else worth reading is smart enough to keep the hell away from that.

  14. The industry can be tough. If the man has a way that he can make more money doing what he’s doing… more power to him. If he were doing a true long form comic then maybe it would get in the way of the story or be distracting from the story, but with what he’s doing there’s no harm.

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