When I riffled through the book section of my local bookmonger megastore recently, I noticed a trend. Every book seemed to obsessively mention A LOT of products by name. Nobody orders whiskey anymore, it has to be Jim Beam, stirred with a promotional AT&T swizel stick.
I know Hollywood has for years sold space in their movies to products (ET and Reese's Pieces etc.). Are publishers inserting these references based on deals with these manufacturers, or has some evil writing teacher convinced a whole generation of innocent writers that using product names rather than real English is somehow good writing?
Or maybe the writers think they'll start getting free cases of Jim Beam by having their character splash it on his tie as he engages in a car chase? Are we going to have characters who say, "Hold on a second while I visit the American Standard?" Despite what it might say about the writers, I hope it's not the publishers doing it.
Well I don't think payola is involved in things like this
or even this
but this was.
I do not think the use of brand names is ipso facto bad writing. Here's a piece from the Wikipedia article on John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra
In the 1930s it was unusual to mention brand names in fiction. Biographer Frank MacShane says that O'Hara wanted his book to have a similar authenticity to those of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom O'Hara admired as a writer who "could come right out and say 'Locomobile' instead of 'high-powered motor car.'" MacShane says O'Hara "filled Appointment in Samarra with the names of popular songs, politicians, sports figures and cars of the period." English (the protagonist) is a car dealer, and O'Hara assumes that readers will understand the social distinctions between a Cadillac, a LaSalle, a Buick, and a "Chevvy" (which O'Hara spelled with two V's). But beyond cars, the novel is full of other brand names, which O'Hara obviously expects to convey subtle social meanings to the reader:
He reached over [in his car] and picked up the hat beside him.... The brim did not snap down in front. It was a Stetson, and Julian wore Herbert Johnson hats from Brooks Brothers." You would look at Mrs. Waldo Wallace Walker, dressed in a brown sweater with a narrow leather belt, and a tweed skirt from Mann and Dilks, and Scotch grain shoes with fringed tongues..."
There is a line in an old Patrick Dennis novel (I think The Genius, one of the best novels of all time EVER) that describes a character in a Peck & Peck suit. It conveys everything you need to know about the woman. (Of course, now that no one except Miss Snark knows what a Peck & Peck suit is, it's not as good a description, but Miss Snark is resigned to being the last person on the Snarksdale train wearing kid gloves to lunch at the Automat too).
Were you to describe Miss Snark in written form it would be much more evocative to say she sucks up Cafe Bustelo rather than merely sucking up java juice. Saying she sucks up Folgers isn't quite the same thing either, not that Miss Snark would ever do such a thing...even in her Peck&Peck suit.