Product Placement in Books – Do You Do It?

November 21, 2009 at 10:40 AM | Posted in Writing | 7 Comments

As far as I know, we writers don’t get paid any extra money for dropping a brand name into our books. Maynards won’t cough up a quarter for every mention of Fuzzy Peaches. (Which is a shame, because I bet I could work the words ‘Fuzzy Peaches’ into a book a lot if I had a mind to.)

Anyway, my question is: do you do it? Do you put brand names in your books? Do you say your character is eating Fuzzy Peaches? Or do just say they’re munching on candy and leave it at that?

What about songs? Do you say they’re singing along to Cowboy Casanova (Hehe. Guess what I’m listening to right now.) or do you leave it unspecified? Cars? Clothes? Do they drive a 2010 Toyota Camry, wearing a new sweater from Aeropostal? Or a shiny red sports car of no discernible make wearing who-knows-what from who-knows-where?

The obvious problem with product placement is the fact that it stamps a date on your book. Let’s face it. If you’re writing the book right now, and your character is driving a shiny 2009 Ford Escape and rocking out to Bad Romance by Lady Gaga, by the time your book is on the shelves (say, in two years) that Ford Escape won’t be so shiny and a lot of your readers are going to have to YouTube Bad Romance before they remember what song it is – never mind what will happen in five or ten years.

On the other hand, if your character drives a Mercedes Benz with Britney Spears blaring and wears clothes from American Eagle, the reader will have a pretty good idea about your character’s tastes, status, and so on. This character would obviously be a lot different from the character who drives a ’95 Pontiac, blasts My Chemical Romance and wears clothes from Sub Culture.

The products in the above paragraph paint two very distinct pictures very quickly. You’ve probably already got a decent idea about who those characters are. But, of course, those two distinct pictures can be painted with other mediums. The same things can be shown through a character’s actions, reactions, interactions, and, of course, it’s not so hard to say that your character is driving a Fridge On Wheels, listening to country music, and wearing a hemp tunic, all of which paint another distinct picture without once being specific enough to date the book.

As with all things, specifying products, songs, and models has its advantages and disadvantages. Some people love it and some people hate it. Some writers do it occasionally, some not at all, and some on every second page.

So, do you do it? Have you seen it done? What do you/did you think of it?

– Becca Cooper (AKA Elusive)

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7 Comments »

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  1. I try not to too much, but my two main ones in Family Portrait/Snap Shot are the band ‘The Killers’, and ‘Diet Coke’. Oh dear, I think my own addictions are seeping in… :D

    Great post! xx

  2. I try not to let any brand names seep in… but I do use car names. Ford, Corvette etc. I think it’s okay as long as you don’t go overboard, and the brand name you’re using is *timeless* (i.e. Macy’s over Aeropostale). In the end though, I think it’s pretty unnecessary, and slapping brand names on a character is actually a sneaky form of Telling. Great post!

  3. Great post!

    I’ve never really had to think about this, because I only write fantasy set in parallel worlds, lol. But if I were to write anything contemporary, I’d take care NOT to brand anything. It can really date a book and I feel like it’s unnecessary.

  4. Great post. I actually think about this a lot when I’m working on anything contemporary, which I’m doing now.
    I admit the date issue is a big one for me. Another problem I have with brands is that I feel like when used a lot (and I’ve seen up to 6 in single paragraphs), then I feel like the author is slamming me in the face with all the info, like it’s too much description.

  5. With the world economy being what it is, and not getting better quickly enough, a lot of major international companies are gonna go under in the next few years. I would hesitate using the names of existing car or fast foot companies in SF due to the 2001 “Pan-Am Headdesk” (watch the film), or in fantasy due to general confusion. Using a company in modern-day material is fine, as even Michael Moorcock has used company names…

  6. I try really hard not to let brands seep into remember, but it’s a book about fashion…and there’s not much I can do about it.
    Unless I make up brands, ie the label MC works at.
    That works but not always. “/
    But looking at it, car brands are used the most in my WIP.

  7. i have been known to put in a mention or two of my cousin’s not that well known band (they have songs on itunes and got a mention on Coronation street though)as my MC’s favourite band……

    also magazines such as Tatler and The Lady, the first of which i’m sure will survive for ever

    also shops, but i rarely mention car brand names and when i do it is quite general (i.e. Mercedes)


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