On Writing

Brand Name Dropping

Are name brands necessary in fiction? Everyday name brands like Coke and Kleenex have made their way into all kinds of fiction, and most readers don’t blink an eye when one appears. The focus for today is the more exclusive name brands and their use in fiction. Generally speaking, they’re not necessary.

Of course, if the name brand is pivotal to your plot—perhaps your protagonist is a designer for a luxury car company—then it is necessary. It would be nearly impossible to write your manuscript without mentioning the brand name at least once. Sure, you could use a made-up name, but if you’re using the brand as a tool to convey prestige, or the lack thereof, a made-up name may not translate.

When the name brand is dropped for name brand’s sake, though, it screams pretentious and unnecessary and reads like a crutch to an editor. Does the reader care that the heroine wore her Jimmy Choos to walk out her Fifth Avenue apartment to her waiting Town Car, her Coach bag on one arm and carrying her iPhone in her hand as her Fortune 500 CEO husband glances at his Rolex and taps the toes of his Berlutis impatiently? Probably not. The reader gets it; they’re rich. But losing the name brands and writing in generic terms, when using strong nouns and verbs, can get the same point across. With none of the pretension.

Equally unnecessary is when brand names are dropped constantly from a male’s point of view. Let’s face it; speaking in general terms, of course, most men don’t care about brand names . . . much less notice them. Women notice brand names, but generally on a more unconscious level. Do many women walk around thinking in brand names? Where’re my Prada sunglasses? I need my Louboutins. My BMW is due for service. Probably not. Most women—not the one percent, perhaps—would think in terms of sunglasses, heels, and car.

So why are so many books overflowing with these brand names? It’s possible authors use brand names to give their characters a certain level of financial importance or social status. Perhaps these brand name items are things authors strive to own, themselves.

Sure, there are certainly very good reasons to use name brands like this. Does your story have a narcissistic character who’s only worried about her things and the way she looks? She’d be the character best suited for this kind of name-dropping. Do you have a character who begins her journey as a shallow pond, and you want to show her growth into an individual with greater depth? By all means, bring your reader along as she focuses less and less on her brand name things and more and more on what matters. Perhaps you’re trying to give a character stereotypical attributes—gay men are constantly stereotyped as brand name-droppers. In addition, using brand names over and over gives your character an air of pretension few other things will. But adding name brands simply for name brand’s sake can add useless filler to your manuscript and divert attention from the important parts.

Unless you’re using them specifically as a plot point, keep the brand name-dropping to a minimum and use strong and interesting words to make your characterizations clear.

I think Macklemore says it best:

Peep game, come take a look through my telescope. 

Trying to get girls from a brand? Man you hella won’t.

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