We all snigger during the movie or TV show when someone's drinking a black-label can of a beverage called "Soda," because it's so obviously generic. But we also know why the movies and TV shows do it: they can't afford to pay a billion-dollar company for the rights to the brand name, or perhaps they don't want to endorse a brand name, or the company said they couldn't use the brand name, or whatever. Basically, they don't want to break the law by using a brand name they don't own. So what about when you use a brand name in your book?
We all use brand names, and everybody owns something with at least one designer label (yes, Levi counts as a designer label). I wash my dishes in Dawn, drink Coca-Cola products and swear by the Swiffer. But is it okay if my characters do, too? Telling your girlfriend to run right out and buy Colgate toothpaste in one thing; self-publishing it in print (or eprint) is quite another. So are your characters texting on Androids, or smartphones? Are they crying into a handful of tissues, or Kleenex?
Using Brand Names in Your Book
There's no simple answers -- there never are. Basically, it boils down to this: it's all in the usage. Yes, you can use brand names and no, you don't have to pay for them...unless you screw up.
- Brands as Nouns
You can reference that your character is using their iPhone to make a call or send a text, or that she reached for a can of her favorite soda, Diet Coke. You cannot use the word "Coke" when you mean any can of cola or soda pop. Brand names have to be used specifically, not generically. But even when you're careful about specifics, you're not out of the woods.
- Designer Labels