Have you heard all the hoo-ha over product placement in magazine stories? Your journalism professors, your public-radio pontificators, your media know-it-alls (please excuse the lapse into industry jargon), all of them are blowing hard about the corruption of editorial content, wada wada wada.

I say, Hey … just a second while I stave off a roaring afternoon hunger with another bite of my delicious Snickers bar … where was I… oh, yes, hey, what is the big deal?

We're talking reality. People wear clothes. Perry Ellis. Pierre Cardin. But people don't just wear clothes, they wear clothes made by somebody. So what's the problem with saying whose clothes they are wearing while writing a story on your incredible new Power MacG5 that comes with iTunes and GarageBand and Omnigraffle, whatever that is, but it is no doubt really important or they wouldn't put it in the incredible new Power Mac G5.

Ya know what I'm saying?

As I sip my absolutely delicious Java Chip Frappuccino blended coffee from Starbucks, I think it is obvious to anyone who thinks about the issue for five minutes - which is all it takes to pour a cup of the sensational Tide Coldwater into the tough-on-stains/gentle-on-clothes Maytag Neptune Washers - that dropping what amounts to advertising copy into editorial content will not make a bit of difference to the integrity of that content.

Of course, the hoity-toits don't think so. About a year ago, the industry magazine for advertisers, Ad Age, sounded the alarm with a story headlined, "Marketers Press for Product Placement in Magazine Text." It went on to say there existed a "call for [the] end of strict separation between advertising and editorial content."

Forget for a moment that magazines already do that all by themselves. Without fashion spreads full of designer clothes labeled and priced in splashy photo shoots, the entire categories of men's and women's magazines would collapse. Music magazines, meanwhile, are one huge advertisement for this band and that product. Where would technology magazines be without all those gadget reviews? And travel magazines are in the business of selling fantasy.

So I ask you, what's the problem with dropping a little advertising copy into the pages of a story? Is there really that much difference between an actual Vanity Fair story and one that goes like this:

Sean Penn breezed into the dimly lit, ultrachic lobby of New York's Paramount Hotel. He looks thirsty. But, then, Sean Penn always looks thirsty.

On this particular afternoon, he seems to want a Coca-Cola. Like him, it's the real thing.

But he doesn't ask for a Coke. As he glides into Paramount's Whiskey Bar, he requests a glass of water. Not Perrier. Not Dasani. Not Japan's Vijay nor Quebec's Naya. Any one of them, premium elixirs that not only satisfy the palate but also cleanse the body, would sate the manly thirst of this once (and future?) bad-boy Hollywood actor. Instead, Sean Penn opts for a simple glass of New York Regular, which is to say, tap water.

But an astute observer can see by the sweat on his brow - if, that is, sweat had formed on his brow, which it hadn't, and which it won't, because Sean Penn is a celebrity - that he would actually prefer a Coca-Cola. It's the pause that refreshes. And Sean Penn, although looking sprightly, could use some refreshing.


Of course, it might be a little tougher for news magazines. Newsweek, for example, might have some trouble with product placement while running a story on a presidential summit:

President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac discussed the future of relations between the two countries over Martin’s handmade gourmet pretzels, “the Rolls Royce of the pretzel world,” according to the New York Times.

Highbrow magazines could have even more difficulty. Consider an article in the history and science magazine Smithsonian, called, say, “Contemplating Einstein”:

The father of modern physics ran a hand through his shock of unruly hair, which, as it happens, might have been tamed into a suave Sinatra-esque ’do if only he had invented something truly useful, like Extra-Body Daily Shampoo and Super Clean Sculpting Gel. Alas, these would be conceived by follicle wunderkind Paul Mitchell.

So, okay, there are a few LAY’S brand POTATO CHIPS problems to be worked out with product placement in SPRITE magazines. But they are CHEVY TRUCK small.

Me? I don’t see what all the McDONALD’S NIKE GILLETTE LISTERINE CADILLAC GOODYEAR NORELCO VERIZON CANON SONY CRAFTSMAN AMERICAN AIRLINES fuss is about.