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Friday, January 21, 2011

Product Placement in Fiction

Product Placement: The casual use or display of products in movie and t.v. shows that act as a kind of subliminal advertising.

We all probably expect product placement in movies and t.v. shows but how about fiction?

I’ve been reading a series lately (well, devouring is a more accurate description) that uses product placement to such an extent that I have to wonder if the author is being paid for endorsing the products littering the pages of the novels. Now, I do love the series in question but the amount of product name dropping is bordering on ludicrous. It’s jarring, pulls me from the story time and time again (and that’s a lot because it usually happens a few times per page), and I don’t really get the point. It won’t stop me from reading more and more of the series but it has left me wondering how much is too much?

During the very first rewrite I did for my agent I was warned against dropping product names. I used the name of a well known discount chain of stores and my agent felt that this might be entering dangerous territory for a variety of reasons...so I removed it. Now, when I’m writing, I am very diligent about keeping those references out.

I’m not sure fiction is the right place to drop product names...unless it’s used to establish character or setting in some way, but even so, couldn’t that be done in a generic way somehow?

What do you all think? Should writers use product names in their manuscripts or should they avoid it? Have you noticed it happening in other novels you’re reading or do you just gloss over it and ignore?


  1. I haven't seen that much of it, but what you're describing in that book sounds crazy. I've never read a book with endorsements like that. Makes one wonder why an author would do that.

  2. I read a book and encountered the same 'problem' - for me it was, totally threw me out of the story and cut the narrative short.
    I think the writers that use it do get paid -- have you noticed if they're newbies? My guess is no: the product marketing team probably targetted the readers as potential clients.
    Ugh, please don't say this is becoming a trend!!!

  3. Yeah, there's a series that I love...except for the excessive product naming that goes on. On one level,I get that it can give an exact picture of what's there - which I don't need. On the other hand, I'm not a fashion person, so I don't care about a lot of it. Either way it's annoying.

  4. I think it's okay when used with a purpose. If you say a woman is wearing a sleek suit and carrying a Louis Vuitton, that says a lot about her. Do we need to know the brand of everything in a story? Absolutely not. In general, I try to avoid them unless that add something essential to the story or the character.

  5. I think its catch 22 to be honest. You have to look at each thing individually. For example its so much easier to use say Ipod than a none branded MP3 player. People know what it is. Likewise if your character wants a drink are you going to invent something or just let them enjoy what they want ie a Coke or a guiness. Everyone knows what they taste like (well those of legal age LOL) so why not keep it simple.

    One book that does annoy me is American Psycho, half the book is graphic violence, the other half is serious brand dropping.

    Using brand is fine provided you don't put yourself in the position of a law suit. In the case of a discount chain, I'd have contacted them and said what I was writing and did they mind if I used one of thier stores. You'll find a lot of places can be very accomodating.

  6. I think it depends. I know (or highly suspect I know) the series you're referring to and my issue with it is that as far as clothes and stuff goes, most men are just not that brand conscious (hell, most women aren't that designer conscious).

    However, in one of my stories, there are fashion names dropped periodically. The reason is that my MC was raised by a fashionista mother, and as much as she doesn't want to be like her mom, she still notices designers and labels. And when her boyfriend buys her designer stuff, she sits up and takes notice because it hits her how much money he's spending on her (which is important to the story).

    So... *Shrug* Too much is a bad thing ,but sometimes (like Gareth's iPod example) it's just easier and other times it fits. Like many things in writing, it's a balancing act.

  7. I'm with Danielle and G/Falcata. There are places where product names tell a lot about character, or at least lets the reader share in something familiar, yet there's an extent at which you're just being a schmuck and taking the reader right out of your story.

  8. I almost always avoid it. I think the only times I can remember using it recently are once when I described a person's hair as Pantene shiney, and my characters go to the Steak and Shake a lot. I love Steak and Shake, so I had to use it. I'm jealous of my characters because they get to go to one and I can't. lol.

    99% of the time I try to make up generic references...

    Oh hey, I thought of one more. In a short story I mentioned Crest, because there was only one type of tooth paste available. It is a real world setting so Crest made sense to me as it is pretty common.

    Interesting, other than those references I can't think of any I have used. I can think of a lot of times when I have specifically avoided them though. I think it would get annoying if they were mentioned like you are describing.


  9. I haven't noticed much use of brand names for products in the fiction I read. And, I can't think of any time when I kept a brand name in a story. I know that in an early version of one story I used "Kleenex" but later I changed that to tissue. Also, none of my characters have any fashion sense at all :) so, I don't need to worry about that.

  10. I think avoid it if at all possible, I do find it jarring as well. But at the same time, using a non-brand for certain things - I was also going to use the Ipod example - is just as bad! So... a balance, is my final answer. :)