Friday, March 5, 2010

The Brand Name

How important is a brand name in a story or book? A friend and I were discussing this the other day. Now a hamburger is pretty much a hamburger. Other than the sheer recognition of mentioning the golden arches or the king, it really doesn't matter unless you're making a point that the characters are eating at a really high end restaurant.

But what about cars? A Jaguar is not at all the same as a VW Beetle. One indicates money, the other not. On the other hand, a truck is a truck is a truck unless you're a real purist. A van is a van. An SUV is an SUV.

For me, whiskey, beer, and mixed drinks are just that. When the writer mentions a specific drink or wine, I have no clue what they're talking about. In the past few weeks, I've read several books that have all sorts of special drinks in them. I generally skip past that part because it doesn't have any bearing on the story for me.

Clothing is another thing. First of all, designer clothing is not in my realm of experience. For the vast majority of the population, I suspect this is true. When you're trying to decide whether to buy a book or buy groceries, designer jeans aren't in the mix. I vaguely recognize names like Ralph Lauren and Chanel, but quite frankly tacking a name onto the description of a shirt or jeans doesn't do much for me. Jeans are jeans are jeans.

Same goes for shoes. I realize there are shoe brands that practically induce salivating in some women, but most of us are happy to have a couple pairs that fit without making our feet hurt. So sneakers, clogs, sandals, heels...those are all perfectly adequate descriptions for footwear.

Actually, I wonder how much of branding is sheer laziness on the writer's part. Not all branding is bad, but when I can't find the story line for the forest of Manolo Blahniks and Cosmos, then I begin to wonder about the author--and the story. Are the brands more important than the plot?

I would rather know that the heroine's skirt is a midnight blue sheath than the name of the designer. Is her bracelet a chunky gold cuff? Or did she buy it at some famous store on Fifth Avenue? Some branding is alright, but I would rather see some real descriptions.

What do you think? Do you want to know the brand? Or does it matter at all?



  1. I think it all depends on how naturally it comes to the story. I find a parade of brand names/designers to be annoying. It's like 'okay she has money already. give it a rest.' LOL. However, I think it's quite natural to have the character get Starbucks. And if the heroine wants Oreos why say a chocolate sandwich cookie? It's not the same. Use of brand names shouldn't be intrusive but just as natural as our everyday speech. I always think: what word would I use for this? Would I say tissue or Kleenex? Would I say Coke or cola? Would I say Starbucks or designer coffee? If I wouldn't say it in regular speech, it probably won't appear in a book as a descriptor.

  2. Exactly. You've explained it perfectly. Brand names should be something that flows naturally with the story. Thank you!

  3. For me, it depends on the story. Branding shouldn't take over a story, but it should tell you something about the characters. Otherwise, it's filler.

  4. Gee, think I've had this conversation recently... ;)

    I agree, for the most part. However, certain references do have cultural value. My geeks eat Doritos, drink Mountain Dew, and play Dungeons and Dragons. On the other hand they don't give a rip what brand their underwear is. My French gargoyles? Well, they might be a little pickier about wines. It all depends on the character.

  5. I don't need specifics - a short, tight, midnight blue silk skirt will suffice for a description. A martini or say...a dirty martini is all I need to know. I don't care where the Vodka came from, I don't care which designer made the skirt. My heroines wear jeans and tee shirts anyway so I guess I could say - Levis and Fruit of the Loom.