Using Real World vs. Fictional Company Names and Product References in Your Story

by Todd Bergmann-Rogers
(Phoenix, AZ)

Hi Glenn!

Got married a year back and had a name change, but still follow you, and really want to thank you for this wonderful and NECESSARY, relevant resource we have in this website!

My question today is about the use of "real world" companies like Microsoft, Boeing, NASA, et al. vs. having to come up with fictional company names and also, the use of products like Coke, Pepsi, Lay's (betcha can't eat just one!), etc in the course of storytelling.

I came across a first person narration in the Male/Male Erotica genre that was written as a fantasy set in the "real world" which used names of cars like Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, etc.

How appropriate is it to use such real world references in a fictional setting?

And if you decide to use real world references, should one stay within the boundaries of the real world or would it be ultimately confusing or muddying the waters to include fictional references alongside the real?

Answer: First... congratulations!

Second... welcome back.

Third... Thanks for the kind comments.

As for your question...

I get asked this question a lot. I don't know exactly who is spreading the notion that you can't or shouldn't use brand names in fiction, but it's obviously false. One sees brand names in stories all the time. Often they are used to lend the setting a sense of authenticity.

The only time you should avoid real brands in your writing is if you are planning to say something about them that is untrue and potentially libelous.

For instance, if you write a story in which Brand X turns out to be shoddy or dangerous to public health, or in which Company X is behaving in an unethical or immoral manner, then the company may have reason to argue in court that you are unfairly hurting their reputation and therefore their business.

In that case, you may be better off creating a fictitious product or company.

But in most cases, mentioning a brand name in a novel is actually giving the company free advertising. So it would make little sense for companies to discourage such a practice.

Just imagine if a best selling novel featured a main character who loved using Product X. Many fans of the book would rush out to buy that product so they can feel closer to their favourite character.

Would a company really want to stop that?


P.S. I am NOT recommending deliberate product placement here, which might destroy a writer's credibility with readers.

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