Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sunday Musings: Brand Use

The timing of this musing was awkward for me because it was scheduled for Sunday September 11th, the anniversary of a day that impacted so many. Maybe my sub-conscious was at work because while I had thought I had gone ahead with this musings’ schedule, I never did post it. So here I am writing to explain why the musing is missing and to give you our Musers…

To Brand use or not….

I use brand names and other pop culture references whenever appropriate. For example, David doesn't drive an SUV, he has a Range Rover.  Brand names, book, song, movie, and TV show titles, and the names of famous characters are all facts, and copyright/trademark protection does not extend to facts.  (I keep clashing on my beloved editrixes on this.  Once in a while I win.)

If you want to get an idea of the extent to which one can use brand names, etc, check out Michael R. Underwood's 'Geekomancy' series, or Ernest Cline's 'Ready Player One'.

So hop into the hot tub in your H3 stretch limo, pop open a bottle of Crystal, and kick back to watch some 'Firefly' reruns while you ponder your characters' next predicament. :-)

Some brand names are useful ways to tag characters, to show something about them. I doubt it's helpful to point out that a character drinks Pepsi and not Coke, but if she drives an Aston Martin that can be a better marker than telling us she spends lavishly on herself (or at least someone does). So they can be effective shorthand for character traits. This has to be applied cautiously, because not everyone has the same view of specific brands and what they mean—is wearing a Rolex an ostentatious display or a sign of good taste?

Beyond that, most manufacturers pay for product placement, so why give it away for free?

So far, I have avoided brand names in any of my stories because they haven't been necessary. Since I write a lot of fantasy stories, I can usually suggest a commodity without giving the brand name, even by making one up, if necessary! If an item is fairly familiar, such as a car, I would only mention the make if it was relevant to the story. However, if something is fairly unusual, such as a food like Marmite, which is quite a distinctive British spread, I would probably give the brand because it would be too hard to describe otherwise. Although, I have yet to write a story which involves Marmite!

To use brand names, or not to use brand names. That is the question. Hahaha… Sorry. On a serious note, I don’t normally use currently existing brand names or those that had existed at one time. It more has to do with copy right laws and all that. You know, getting into the gray area of what you can and can’t do in relation to certain products? The whole endorsement thingy. Gets kind of weird, for me anyway.

Since most of the world I write in is created (doesn’t exist), I just pop in the generic reference or if I really have to name names, it’s created as well. Plus, for me it keeps me in the world I’m writing, so there are wines and shampoos, fashion designers and foods, make-up and vehicles, but nothing like those you see in our reality.

MJ LABEFF, New Mainstream author

To use brand names or not to use brand names- that is the question. I’m really interested in what readers think about this and whether it’s important or not to them. I don’t think using brand names is necessary to convey information about characters or scenes. Several writing workshops, seminars, and conferences later, I’ve heard different schools of thought on this subject from- if you’re going to use a brand name you must include the registered trademark symbol to- nope, no you don’t need the symbol, to- don’t write, “She jumped behind the wheel of the sports car,” write, “She jumped behind the wheel of the Corvette.” Yep, I love Corvettes so I’ll go out on a limb here with Chevrolet. Please forgive me for not using the registered trademark symbol. It’s an author’s choice to decide if he/she is going to use brand names. Personally, I think not using brand names gives the reader more of an opportunity to imagine the item which then conveys an image of the character or setting. It gives readers creative license, and they may enjoy the story even more. When I write the words sports car, what beautiful, curvy, shiny, piece of metal comes to your mind? You know what I’m picturing, a Corvette, baby!

Just last night, I finished burning my way through Robin Sloane's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. It is definitely one of my favorite books now, but Sloane threw brand names around like confetti, in ways that I wasn't even wholly sure was legal. Google played a really huge role in the plot: one of the characters worked for Google, they used Google, they went to Google and explained all this stuff about Google that may or may not be true, I don't know--but Google was practically mentioned every other paragraph. A couple years ago, a writer stressed to me not to use brand names if I could help it in case the brand came after you for using their name sans permission. Upon doing some Googling myself (haha) it seems that Sloane fabricated a lot of the other big brands in his book, like the Geritzoon typeface, but the Google one really stuck out to me because Google is very big and very real. I don't know anything about Robin Sloane. Maybe he has friends at Google. But I'd be very wary of using a famous brand so much. I'm not saying you shouldn't mention Kleenexes or Cheerios or a Mini Cooper in your books, or thermoses--I just took a semester long class on Business Law, and we learned about trademarks/brands/etc. and how they can become genericized: or they become the go-to name for something so whomever owns the brand can't really sue people over it. Kleenex, synonymous with tissue, is an example of this. If I was writing about a type of car, I would use a brand up until I was writing pages and pages solely about the ownership and history of the car--then I would probably switch the name. For Monet Evanesce, a novel on art forgery hopefully coming out next year, my main Impressionist artist is fake--he never existed. A work by Degas I center on never existed, I made it up. If something's real, you sort of have to follow its truth, and it's much more fun to make stuff up. You also don't get sued usually over a brand you made up yourself. Hopefully. ;)

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at

No comments: