Avoid using real product names in story

If thinking about using names of real products in your story, you may want to reconsider. Why?

Product names date the manuscript. Soap, for example has been around a long time (and hopefully will be around for a long to come!), but many brand names have come and gone. So why not just say “soap” rather than risk creating in your readers a moment of confusion about what you mean? Of course, the exception is when you set the story in the past; then you may want to use brands popular at that time – such as Brylcreem, Sun Records, and RCA television sets for the mid 1950s. Doing so helps transport the reader to that time period.

Using product names also can lead to a bad legal situation. Suppose that your fictional story involves a car company’s execs covering up engineering flaws in their vehicles that can result in fatalities. If you make General Motors your car company, than you portray that corporation in a bad light, even if you state on your title page that this book is a work of fiction. Writing a nonfiction expose is one thing, but if penning fiction, why not simply make up a company name, such as “National Motors”?

A product name also can show how much you don’t know about a product. Suppose you use “Kindle” instead of “ereader”. Now, if you use iBook, you may end up describing the Kindle as if it were an iBook. Being generic allows you to play it safe, as you can give your device characteristics and abilities that neither the Kindle nor the iBook may have.

If you do use a product name in your story, make sure you get the spelling and capitalization right. Many product names are a play on words. After all, is it Jello, jello, Jell-O or Gello? Get it wrong, and some readers who know better will take notice…and that’s not exactly what you want readers to pay attention to. You may need to do a little research, but a minute or two typing the product name into a search engine will quickly yield results.

Finally, you don’t need to include the trademark symbol in your writing, regardless if it is fiction or nonfiction. Trademarks are intended to prevent other entrepreneurs from releasing a product with the same or similar name. Corporations like to include the TM on their documents as a sort of warning shot to competitors that might unscrupulously try to exploit that product’s name and to offer evidence that they are protecting their trademarked or registered name. In any case, all of those TMs and circled R’s to show that a product name is trademarked turns a story into alphabet soup. They are extremely distracting when reading.