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We intend to use the name of a well known brand within our novel and have written to them to gain permission to use their name. They have got back in touch today to say they would be honoured for us to do so. It does in no way detract from the storyline, in fact because of the popularity of the brand we feel it enhances it. I suppose there are two questions here;

1) Is it considered unusual to do such a thing within fiction? 2) Are there any requirements as with television to state that a brand name is placed within the book.

For clarity we are not being paid for doing so, simply gaining permission.

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As an aside: I thought that product placement was specifically when someone paid you to put a product in your film/tv episode/etc? And if you have written permission from the company, how can this be a problem? –  Neil Fein Sep 17 '13 at 18:21
I really am no expert hense why I am seeking to clarify this. I have not received any monetary payment, but there is always the chance of a sort of quid-pro-quo deal (i.e. they give us a free advert or recommendation of some sort). This however is purely speculative, but before we enter these kinds of talks we would like to know the legalities involved. –  KD Novels Sep 17 '13 at 19:08
You can always add a paragraph along with the copyright, publishers' details etc. that says something along the lines of "this is a work of fiction. any similarities with real persons, events or corporations are unintended and coincidental." –  Michael Kjörling Sep 19 '13 at 11:01
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

You have covered the legality, because you have their permission. The issue is therefore closed and complete. You have, however, possibly missed an opportunity, because you might have been able to obtain some payment for using the name, although this is very unlikely. In films, such payments are much desired and sought, but in fiction, it is very rare for a company to pay a writer for the opportunity to put the name of a product into a book.

On the other hand, you usually don't need permission, because if the product is in the public eye, it is expected that it can be mentioned without compensation because it is as much a part of the cultural framework of our lives as, say, Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore is a famous, named entity, but you don't have to pay anyone to mention it in a book, any more than you have to pay Coca-Cola just to mention its name in a book.

It becomes a different thing, however, if Coca-Cola becomes a character or a major plot element in your book. That's when you have to think about paying the Coca-Cola company to use the name.

(And see RhysW's comment below for an important additional note.)

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Perhaps an oportunity has been missed, however I made the judgement that I dont really have the standing within the industry to negotiate a fee with it being my first novel. However if the book is a success im sure this will give me some leverage in terms of seeking payment to be in future books. In these circumstances is there any requirement to make the reader aware that payments have been received for product placement? –  KD Novels Sep 17 '13 at 20:52
The simple answer: No, not at all. But you have to decide if you feel ethically bound to do so. –  John M. Landsberg Sep 17 '13 at 20:55
Quick note, the issue is not closed and complete. If you only degrade the product, compare it to their competitors and belittle it, there is every chance they will attempt to seek legal recourse for slandering their name. Claiming they gave you permission to use it but only in a positive light. Word of warning, check the fine print to see just what you can and can't do with their product –  RhysW Sep 17 '13 at 22:18
@RhysW This is correct, and thanks for the amendment. –  John M. Landsberg Sep 17 '13 at 22:56
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Unusual? It seems so to me. Just answering in my own experience: I can't remember reading about a specific, actual product. I've read about fictional products and companies (I primarily read science fiction).

The advice I recall being given is that if the actual product makes a material difference to the story, use it; if not, don't -- you can invent one (Arthur C Clarke in 2001 -- "HAL" rather than "IBM"). (It sounds like you've already decided to go forward, but mentioning this in case it might be useful.)

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The reason I wanted it to be a real product is that the story is set in a real place and I felt the product in question adds authenticity and reflects the culture of the setting, it was something I felt the reader could really relate to. The only example of product placement I could think of myself was James Bond's 'Vodka Martini' tag line, which I think enhances his character - this is what I am hoping to achieve. –  KD Novels Sep 18 '13 at 8:26
The Urban Shaman series by CE Murphy mentions plenty of real products and brand names. Actually, it's a little jarring to see them, given how often we don't see real product names. –  Lauren Ipsum Sep 18 '13 at 11:43
"Tea. Earl Grey. Hot" –  dmm Oct 7 '13 at 19:08
These examples are generic. Vodka is a type of ethanol; martini is a particular mixture of ingredients. Earl Grey is a type of tea. None of these are brands so far as I know -- a brand would be Smirnoff (vodka) or Twinings (tea). I agree that real products/brands is jarring. –  Padawan Learner Oct 11 '13 at 19:41
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