9.23.2006

Miss Snark swills bootleg gin for a reason

If your hero smokes a Gauloise, it says something a lot different than smoking a Virginia Slim, let alone a clove fag.

If your hero drinks Laphroaig it means something a lot different than a Bud Lite.

If your hero quotes from the Book of Judith, you might also know something about him.


Here's an interesting link to a discussion of using brand and product names in writing.
And yes, I know the Book of Judith isn't trademarked.

35 comments:

M. Takhallus. said...

Product names usually hold up for at least a few years unless you step too far afield. Bombay Sapphire will still be good gin, Four Seasons will still be a pricey room, etc...

Clothing style is especially tough, and even more so if you're doing kid's or YA. They change their minds too quickly.

Bands are an interesting challenge. In 1993 (or so, I'm bad with dates) I had to write a YA romance series and wanted to include real band names. Since I was pretty much ignorant of music at that point I had to start buying CD's again. I ended up plugging Green Day, Offspring, Nirvanna and Nine Inch Nails as I recall. Those worked out okay. Unfortunately I also dropped in Mazzy Star and Guns n' Roses. Lousy Axl.

Anonymous said...

It's different from.

Gina Black said...

While we're on the topic (sort of), I want to know is why George C. does the VO's for Budweiser. Yes, I know it's because he likes Budweiser, but that makes me feel like saying G-e-e-o-o-r-g-e, get with it...

McKoala said...

Oh yeah, I love Laphroig. Pass the bottle.

Miss Snark said...

anonymous darlin, if you really want to snark the snark, you're gonna have to do better than from/that.

http://www.bartleby.com/68/37/1837.html

M. Takhallus. said...

Anonymous:
Miss Snark writes in character, in a distinct voice, and her blogging is clearly in the nature of a dialogue between herself and the readers and commenters. Dialogue need not be grammatical.

Wonderwood said...

The right product names can lend authenticity to a period piece, and can certainly date the setting if used correctly.

word verification: etoxn = cyber pail of gin

Wonderwood said...

i.e. if you're talking about the newly released "Welcome To The Jungle" CD, it obviously puts you in 1986 ('87?).

Dave said...

Kyra Sedgwick (who plays Brenda Lee Johnson on The Closer) was on Jay Leno. She related a story that they had to check out her name (and every other name, brand name, etc... on the show). So she innocently says:
"They had to send out something like 10 or 15 thousand letters to Johnsons across the country asking if they...)

Jay Leno never let her finish that statement.

Anonymous said...

Well, yeah: it might say something about the character or setting for now, but once the corporate suits get their way and product placement is as prevalent in novels as it is in movies, all it will say is that whiskey bids bigger than beer. How long before characters are being developed by the marketing boys rather than by the conflict and story arc?

LJCohen said...

Well, a character who drinks Laphroig, neat, is going to be quite different from someone who prefers Glennfidich on ice.

Single malt scotches are as different from one another as varieties of wine.

And bartenders in the US are quite impressed if you're a gal who knows her single malts. :)

Corn Dog said...

And what's wrong with Budweiser? Budweiser should be so lucky to have Mr. Clooney doing voiceover work for them. I wish I could still drink. I would go to the corner liquor store, buy a quart and slug it down.

What I object to is George has a pig for a pet. Is he taking proper care of that pig while he flits around the globe on location? Pigs are sensitive with special needs.

v-word: wbeeydvn - the wee bees are diving (say it in an Irish accent)

Grendel's Dam said...

If you're a Brit, it's "different to."

Pass the Macallan.

BuffySquirrel said...

Been googling yourself again, Snarky? :D

No, if you're a Brit, different from is still preferred, altho' different than and different to are valid alternatives. Different than is however looked down upon.

Having just finished Doublevision, an SF novel that's allegedly anti-consumerist (anti-consumerist in this case meaning 'drop in as many brand names as you possibly can'), I'm full up to the ears with brands I don't recognise and which therefore tell me nothing about the characters at all. I don't think there is an easy answer to this issue. In my Fantasy novel, I used brand names to try to indicate the wealth of the protagonist, and got the usual comments about how the novel will quickly become dated. I'm open to suggestions.

Miss Snark said...

Naw, someone sent me the link.
I just google YOU Miss Squirrel

Bonnie shimko said...

Grammar police irk the heck out of me. I picture a little gray snerd (I think I just made up a new word)crouching in a dark corner, just waiting for somebody to make a mistake so they can jump out and make a citizen's arrest.

Anonymous said...

Snerd.

Bonnie, that's wonderful! A keeper, for sure.

joshua said...

Stephen King and Brett Ellis are great at this game...in fact, this subject can be referenced to an earlier Snark-o-rific post re: cliches.

Brand name usage can easily slip into the cliched...but with an artistic eye/ear, with the understanding that the overall integrity of a project determines its ability to support said cliche/brand name or even sentimentality, then you're ready to 'have at it'.

BuffySquirrel said...

*faints*

nice anonymous said...

George Saunders probably could give master classes in this sort of thing. I don't think he'll sound dated in 20 years. He's just brilliant at describing an actual product without ever giving its brand name, and yet offering us enough information so that we can identify it. The trick seems to be his diction -- he really knows his "adspeak" and corporate lingo.

GutterBall said...

I suddenly want to watch Josie and the Pussycats.

Word ver: hocrphe - the Greek goddess of cliched writing from whom we get the term "hokey".

Anonymous said...

Shoo, shoo annoying grammarians and spelling police.

Stop reading this blog -- since you don't fucking get it -- and go edit a dictionary.

Better yet, insert one.

ColoradoGuy said...

"Grammar police irk the heck out of me. I picture a little gray snerd (I think I just made up a new word)crouching in a dark corner, just waiting for somebody to make a mistake so they can jump out and make a citizen's arrest."

So you knew my mother?

BuffySquirrel said...

anon #5, you can shoo all you like, but I ain't a-going.

Ray Goldensundrop said...

Maybe its just me, but I glaze over when branding happens. So-and-so's drinking booze, which has a standard effect on the senses. I'm not really interested in how much it cost, unless the character is broke. Then it might be stollen booze, which could be interesting. Or it might be moonshine, possibly more interesting. Or it could be the jug left behind after that other guy burst into spontaneous combustion in the crowded room, right after so-and-so killed such-and-who with a broken bottle of Bud jammed into the guts and twisted upward.

"Ha," says so-and-so, "looks like you just got a little weiser, arf-arf."

So okay, sometimes branding can be fun.

bebe said...

Would it make me an annoying spelling police person who doesn't fucking get it to point out that the linked post spells "Dr. Seuss" wrong?

I see that mistake a lot. I know it's not his real name or anything, but come on. The poor guy single-handedly revolutionized children's publishing, we've all laid eyes on his name probably thousands of times, he helped us learn how to read, and a disconcerting number of people fondly remember someone by the name of Suess...

GutterBall said...

To Ray:

Or, how about, "Take that Bud and stick it up your Weiser!"?

Sorry. I've had too much sugar today.

Bunneh said...

Ray: Don't know if I agree with you there. Branding isn't about saying, "And he sat down and ordered a bottle of N-hundred-dollar wine." It's about saying your character has a bottle of 1945 Chateau Latour in his/her wine cellar. That tells a LOT more about the character's, well, character than a price tag.

Ray Goldensundrop said...

bunneh:

It probably is just me.

Chateau Latour tells me nothing, except it's French wine. Or was that a pun? I don't know French well enough to tell. If it were a Croation label, I'd be completely lost.

The date speaks more to me, as does the fact that the character has a wine celler.

This character is loaded, maybe in more ways than one. The character might have a connection to WW II and France, and if not, what's the point?

Or is there something special about that particular brand of French wine? I just don't know. Might need a little exposition here.

Anyway, I glaze over. Hopefully the story stands despite the branding.

(gutterball, hi!)

M. Takhallus. said...

Brand names are a code. Not every reader has to grasp the specifics for the code to work. And of course if you're in doubt about the likelihood of making your point as a writer you can prop up the brand reference. You might talk about Don Johnson era Armani, or talk about an entry-level BMW, something that gives context. If we were using the '45 Latour we might want to drop in that it was purchased at a Christie's wine auction. (You're not going to find '45 Latour at your local grocery store.) That confirms the message that the wine is rare and expensive.

But it's not a bad idea to flatter the reader a bit with references that might be just an inch or so over his head. He doesn't have to immediately get it, so long as he eventually gets it.

Anonymous said...

I have my character take a swig of malt liquor -tell me a certain ethnic group doesn't come to mind.

Kate Thornton said...

A brand name can freeze the story in time - i.e., PanAm in 2001: A Space Oddessey - where the freezing is both in the past & in the future.

The Unpretentious Writer said...

Now see, this is why I write fantasy....don't need to trademark tavern ale.

Bunneh said...

Ray, you said:

This character is loaded, maybe in more ways than one. The character might have a connection to WW II and France, and if not, what's the point?

Well, yeah. The character would have to be loaded, because like M. Takhallus said, you're not going to pick up a '45 Latour at the Safeway. There doesn't have to be a connection to France or WWII, because the wine is rare and expensive (whoadaddy, is it expensive). It's... a status symbol. If a character owns a Ferrari, does he/she necessarily have to have ties to Italy? Nope.

Or is there something special about that particular brand of French wine? I just don't know. Might need a little exposition here.

Well, I plucked the '45 Latour out of the air. But M. Takhallus is totally right about branding being a sort of code. I'd never heard of Laphroig until I read a book in which a character drank it. Actually, I ended up Googling it, because I didn't understand what was so special about it.

I think the reader has to take a little bit of initiative and make an effort to "get" the context and significance of the branding. If a character smokes Cohiba El Presidentes, that says quite a bit about him/her, but if the reader doesn't know a Cohiba from a Swisher Sweet, then that reader may find himself confused. (That said, I think most readers would try to find out. I know I've made that effort more than once.)

Because once you figure out the context of the branding, I think it really... enriches the world the story is set in.

Just my $.02, of course.

Frainstorm said...

Snarky,

Feel good that someone from Grammar District is trying nail you with an offense. If the historical ratio stays true, that means 10,000 good posts are heading your way!