Brands in Games

What are the rules regarding brand names? For example can a character drink Johnnie Walker whisky? Can they drive a Lexus? Can they go to Disneyland? Can they listen to the soundtrack to Blade Runner when they get home.

Yes. But be careful not to depict that company in a negative way.

It’s okay for someone to drive a Toyota in your story. It would be unwise to have the Toyota break down and for a character to say, “Toyotas are pieces of junk!”

It is always safer to go generic ('tissue" instead of Kleenex).


Glad this was posted, as I plan of using the NBA as a reference in my story. So I was also curious whether it was allowed.

Thanks for the info!

You should not try to write a whole story about an organization like the NBA. An offhand comment about the NBA would probably be okay as long as it wasn’t negative, but if you’re writing a basketball story you need to create your league, teams, and players.

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Personally, I try to avoid mentioning any brands or known properties beyond what’s necessary to establish time or place.

Take, for example, your usage of the Blade Runner soundtrack for a character. If you just mention that ‘Tom put the Blade Runner soundtrack on as soon as he got in the door’, I have no idea what that sounds like. Well, I do, as I love the film, but the metaphorical audience I might not. So, you have to describe what it sounds like, in which case what’s the reasoning for namedropping Blade Runner?

There might be a reason but then you need to have considered that reasoning.

Basically, don’t go all Ready Player One where you namedrop brands or things just to do it. But if you’re doing a story dealing with similar themes to Blade Runner then, yeah, namedropping it might be a nice way of saying ‘Hey, I know this exists and I acknowledge it’. Choice of Robots – which I’ll never not sing the praises off – namedrops a few big works of IF during one scene which was a clever way of acknowledging the history of the medium in a smart way.

Conversely, I don’t think Robots mentions any real brands even though it’s set in some nebulous near-future.

Basically, brands are things that can work against you more than I think they benefit you. For example, I write a bunch of speculative sci-fi with superheroes but I feel it’d come off as really tacky if a character mentioned how things ended up being different to the comic books and movies, y’know?

It’s a tough balancing act.


Hmm most of that I planned on doing anyhow but, just keeping the NBA name alone. If that’s a bad choice ill go ahead and change it. Glad I found out now rather then chapters in. XD

Also, just because you mentioned whiskey, here’s one of my favorite examples of a exchange with brand names that are necessary for it to work. It’s from The Wire.

McNulty: Can I get a Jamesons?
Bartender: Bushmills okay?
McNulty: [indignant] That’s Protestant whiskey.
Bartender: [chuckling] The price is right, ain’t it?
McNulty: Make it neat.

For those of you who don’t understand it. McNulty is an Irish-American detective. The whole ‘Protestant whiskey’ thing is something that Irish-expats do to signal their true Irishness. Basically, it’s a way to demonstrate – yet again, for this particular character – just how up his own ass he is about everything.


Isn’t the general rule to make up your own brands instead of using real ones to avoid all the potential hassle?

For instance, Fallout’s Nuka Cola or DayZ’s Pipsi

Cheers Eric, I’ll probably steer clear of Disney just to be on the safe side.

Jameson’s also denotes him as a certain kind of alcoholic as well.

And likewise for me Jonnie Walker has a cultural connotation in Asia which is why I want to use it.

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IIRC regardless of ‘sounds like’ names the moment you go and mock a product even the fake name might get you in trouble.

I’m pretty sure they can’t legally sue you for “sounds like” names since it’s not technically stealing the trademark or anything

Again, it is safer to make up your own brand/company names.

However, it is acceptable to use brand names once in a while to add some realism. If you get tired of writing “sedan” or “sports car” and you think Camry or Mustang might paint a more vivid picture, you can sprinkle such brands in. Just don’t present the product in a negative light! That is a big no no.

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…so just to make sure I’m understanding you all correctly, my parody theme park Bizneyland, its business suit wearing, Wall Street brokering, ‘Greed is good’ quoting rat mascot, Rickey the Rat, and their satirical portrayal of modern American corporations and neo-capitalism…while not explicitly illegal, would still probably get me a lifetime ban from a certain real-life theme park?

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I accidentally came up with a wonderful substitute for Netflix:

It turns out to be very popular with my testers. …


Back when I worked in publishing the first rule of copyright and trademarks was “Don’t f*** with the mouse.”


Disney is so protective of their trademarks I’d be surprised if you DON’T get at least a little repercussion from doing that but as you’ve said, it’s not illegal so take it how you will

What is the rule when mentioning or using college/university names?

Bwahahaha, this thread! The MC in So, You’re Possessed! hangs out at WallGredes, a direct send-up of Walmart and Walgreens, intentionally pronounced “greed.” :laughing:

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