I Hate Branded Social Media References in Fiction!

Social Media and Branding in Fiction

Brace yourself for some serious word-vomit today, as I try to gather my thoughts into coherent sentences! When I first had the idea for this post, it was titled, “I Hate Technology References in Fiction”, but as I began writing I realised that I’m completely fine with technology in fiction. In fact, when used well, I think technology can really add to the story (think texts, instant messages, and emails incorporated into the storyline).

What does get on my nerves in fiction, are references to actual brands, especially social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Even though these sites have been around for quite a while, I’m only noticing them becoming present in fiction lately (particularly Contemporary YA), but it’s a trend that seems to be growing, and I don’t like it.

Technology, the Internet and social media have been around for quite a while, and sites like Facebook and Twitter aren’t going to disappear any time soon. So it’s understandable that authors will try to incorporate them somehow into the story. It’s relevant, believable and relatable for the book’s audience. But for some reason, when I see references to actual brands in fiction, it really irks me.

Part of the reason brand references annoy me so much is because it pulls me out of the story. Although contemporary fiction is based in the real-world, for me on some level, it’s more of a parallel world. So when I stumble upon a reference to a real-life website, it kind of jolts me out of that fictional world and back into reality. I’ve read novels that have social media sites, and popular fast food chains, and franchised coffee shops, but the authors have given them made-up names relative to the world the story is set in, and that works so much better for me!

While some people may argue that references to “big brands” in fiction capture the culture and time we live in, I think it negatively affects the timeless-ness of the story (I’m making timeless-ness a word). Stories are loved over many generations because of reoccurring and relatable themes, emotions and scenarios, not because of the accuracy of the context of the time when they were written.

References to real-life brands in fiction seems to be a pet peeve of mine, which may change over time as I become more accustomed to seeing them mentioned in the books I read (hopefully not!), but I wanted to write this post to see if I can determine why brand references annoy me so much. I’m all out of ideas, so it appears I have two semi-logical reasons!

Over to you! Do real-life brand references annoy you, or do you love them and think we should have more of them? Why do you like or dislike brand references in fiction? Let me know in the comments!

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About Rachel

Avid reader & book blogger. Lover of Business. A fan of drinks & dancing. Ever optimistic. Feminist.

27 Responses

  1. Do other brand references annoy you? There are some things that many people use a brand name for, even if they don’t mean that specific brand: Oreos, Kleenex, Coke, Band-Aid, Cool Whip, Xerox, etc. Technologically speaking, many people say Google as a verb, even if they aren’t specifically using Google. Do any of these examples annoy you? Is it just social media sites?

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      1. Brands in fiction only annoy me if they’re inconsistent – like, if a book referenced McDonalds, but used a made up name for Facebook. I think authors should either stick to our reality or make up an alternate one, not mix the two. For instance, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl bothered me when it referenced Harry Potter, even though Simon Snow was obviously an alternate version of Harry. Contemporary books will always date themselves, regardless of name brands. If they’re good enough books, they’ll stick around until they become classics. Jane Austen wrote contemporary fiction.

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      2. I don’t think brands were as big a thing in Regency England, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout the next time I read Austen, lol.

        I’ve not read Carry On, because I hated the excerpts in Fangirl. I much prefer Rainbow Rowell’s adult books than her YA. And yeah, I have no idea how she was able to publish fanfic.

        Does product placement bother you in movies and TV? Maybe you subconsciously feel like the author is using branding on purpose to advertise?

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  2. Hmm, I can’t say it bothers me all that much. I can understand someone reading the book way down the road, and let’s just say Facebook no longer exists then (*gasp*), and them going, ‘WTF is a Facebook?!’ Then it will seem silly that it’s referenced. But I guess while I’m reading a book and stuff like that pops up, I just skim right past it without much thought. But I can see your argument!

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  3. Seeing “text” syntax and emojis is the worst in fiction and I have encountered a few of them. I understand it’s intent and purpose…but why? Not to mention seeing slurs and misspellings and shortforms is just so tacky. If I see another “u” stand-in for “you” — I will lose my shit.

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  4. I’m always a little apprehensive to read books with text exchanges and online chats. I think it kind of throws off the flow of the book. But moving on to what your post is actually about, I hate product placement in movies and tv shows, it always comes across as disingenuous and often very awkward. I haven’t come across it in print (or at least I haven’t notices), but I’m pretty sure it would mess with the flow again, jarring me from my reading experience. While it may not exactly be “product placement”, it still feels weird to me. I don’t read a lot of contemporary books, so I haven’t noticed that it’s become more common, but I’m just hoping no one comes up with the brilliant idea to write a book using only Tweets or something. Shoot, I just did. Great discussion!

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      1. Very interesting. I just read Julie Buxbaum’s Tell Me Three Things where the protagonist has a mysterious penpel that she communicates with through email and instant message. I really enjoyed it. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should! I haven’t read Illuminae yet, but I hear everyone praise it. I actually checked it out from the library not too long ago, saw that it needs some really close attention in order to get through it, ran out of time and had to return it. I’ll probably seek it out again.

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  5. You made me think about this one for a minute. I don’t think it annoys me – but it’ll be interesting 20 years in the future, when these references come up and I think … that’s so old school!

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  6. It does bother me when social media or contemporary brands or businesses are featured in books. I feel it’s free advertising for that brand (and perhaps an endorsement) as well as something that could be a key word in a plot synopsis or such to attract attention online in searches.

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  7. Brand references in books don’t actually bother me. I know what you mean, this can make the book seem dated later on and I know for you it can jar you out of the story, but it’s never bothered me. In contemporary fiction it often seems inevitable because the internet and technology have sort have become ingrained in our everyday lives. I get what you’re saying, changing the names of things so it’s still the same site or social media thing can make it a bit more timeless and is easier for some to read but for me it’s all the same thing regardless.

    I’m pretty sure you’ve mentioned before on a post I did a while back you don’t like real life music references in your books either. What I’m getting from all this is you like your books to stay in their little fictional made up bubble, which completely makes sense. I mean, we read books as escapism really, who needs the real world encroaching?

    I think the thing which bothers me in featuring technology and social media in books is the fact it can date it. Reading some contemporary books from about 10 years ago and you notice the change in technology which gets mentioned and you can’t believe how old that all sounds like the days of flip phones and dial up tone.

    This is a really interesting post about a topic I’d never really considered before and I just know I’m going to notice these little references in my books now, we’ll see how my view changes now I’ve thought about it.

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  8. I’m with you on this one. Although, honestly, I’m not irritated when I see older brands in books, nor do I mind pop culture references…but only if the book is set in the past. I read a book a few years ago that made a reference to Spongebob Squarepants and it kind of ruined the story for me. But, if a book made a reference to the Breakfast Club or Pretty In Pink, I would totally be on board.

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