Read an interesting story on the Huffington Post today about product placement in books. Specifically they were talking about the way product placement is playing and has always played, a role in the 'James Bond' stories.
Regardless of what you think about spy novels I have some thoughts on the subject of product placement: It makes sense.
If you are writing a story which takes place in the 99th century, on some alien world, or your story takes place in some wondrous fantasy realm where jeans and Coca-Cola (product placement!) haven't been invented, you can be forgiven for creating your own brand names. But if your story takes place in the real world, where we all live, it makes a whole lot more sense to have your characters interacting in ways which most people would interact.
If I am reading a story and someone reaches for a can of "Fizzy Drink" it is very distracting. Immediately my mind begins to wander: What is "Fizzy Drink?" What does it taste like? Where can I buy some? Can I buy some? I want the same experience as the characters I am reading about; I want to empathize with them as much as possible, which means I want to share their experiences; understand what they are doing, thinking, saying, feeling. The only way for the writer to do that properly is to give them real world experiences that the reader can relate to.
Now, should we be doing this so we can earn a little extra money from advertisers? In my opinion, no. That alters the nature of your story and your characters. There is a difference between your character drinking a Pepsi (product placement!) and a Budweiser (product placement!) and we all know that. There is also a difference between your character drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon (product placement!) and a Samuel Adams (product placement!)
What your characters are doing matters. How they think, matters. What they like or dislike, matters. One of the many ways we can relate these things to the reader is through their taste in products. I am not here to weigh whether this is a good or bad commentary on the nature of the human species. It's simply the truth. We can tell a great deal about each other by examining the products we buy and use every day.
I drive a beat-up, old, Mustang convertible; wear 'Star Wars' t-shirts, jeans and Vans. I'll bet you now know much more about me than if I said I drive a 'Kaliden', wear 'Shirtzees' and drink 'Ultra!'.
I am interested in your thoughts on this subject. Product placement: good or bad or indifferent?