This week’s entry: Fictional brands
What it’s about: Last week, we looked at product placement in TV and film, in which a real product is used in a fictional environment, sometimes to add verisimilitude, sometimes as a stealthy advertisement for the product. But producers and directors have another option: creating a fake brand. Sometimes a product has negative associations in a story, and no real-life company wants to be known for producing the hand soap that poisons everyone in town. And sometimes it ties a fictional universe together, like the Red Apple cigarettes smoked in every Tarantino film, or Slusho, the frozen drink that ties nearly every J.J. Abrams production together (Han Solo enjoying a Slusho in Maz Kanata’s must be in a deleted scene).
Strangest fact: Sometimes fictional brands become real. In what Wikipedia calls “reverse product placement,” a fake product becomes popular enough that someone begins selling a real version. As a result, you can now buy Willy Wonka brand candy, Duff Beer, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, and Stay Puft marshmallows. Can Acme exploding rocket skates be far behind?
Biggest controversy: Sometimes fictional brands are created because using the real one would be illegal. The X-Files’ Cigarette Smoking Man puffs on Morleys because there’s a ban on portraying real smokes on TV, even in the hands of a villain. And while laws about advertising alcohol on TV have relaxed in recent years, there are still enough rules about booze on TV that characters invariably order a beer without ever specifying a brand, just to be on the safe side.
Thing we were happiest to learn: There are over 100 fictional beverages out there. You can get trashed on Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, Klingon bloodwine, or a Flaming Moe, although you may want to lay off the Vitameatavegamin. You can also stock a whole beer aisle with Duff (The Simpsons), Shotz (Laverne & Shirley), Buzz (The Drew Carey Show), Pawtucket Patriot Ale (Family Guy), Alamo (King Of The Hill), and the ubiquitous Heisler (used in countless shows); brew up some homemade Schraderbräu (Breaking Bad); or stop into the Queen Vic on EastEnders for a pint of Churchill’s. Or for the teetotalers, there’s Gurgleurp (Donald Duck’s favorite), blue milk from Star Wars, Nuka-Cola from the Fallout games, or dangerously addictive Futurama favorite Slurm.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Wikipedia dropped the ball on an overall list of fictional products. Besides beverages, drugs (legal and otherwise), and vehicles, there is no list of other categories, or an overall list (although there is an off-site fictional companies wiki). Vehicles can be broken down into fictional aircraft, fictional automobiles, (or a combination of the two, flying cars), fictional ships, and fictional spaceships. Don’t forget Thomas The Tank Engine, the TARDIS, and Howl’s Moving Castle.
Also noteworthy: Sometimes brands are invented purely for comedic reasons. Wikipedia also has a list of commercial parodies from Saturday Night Live, including classic bits like Colon Blow, EZ Date, Happy Fun Ball, Jon Hamm’s John Ham, Little Chocolate Donuts, Old Glory Robot Insurance, Shimmer (a floor wax and a dessert topping!), and, of course, clownpenis.fart.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: The natural place to find a fictional brand is a fictional universe. While some stories take pains to present a realistic view of the world, there are countless books, films, comics, and TV shows that create a completely fictitious town or whole world. These can be constrained to one story, or be a broad platform for various stories, like Marvel Comics’ shared continuity, or a Star Trek galaxy that spans 12 films and five TV series, with more of each on the way.
Further down the Wormhole: Whether real or fiction, you have to be 18 to buy cigarettes, except for a handful of states where the age is 19. One of those states is New Jersey, which has countless claims to infamy, but perhaps none that combine fun and danger more than Action Park, an amusement park whose notoriously unsafe rides claimed the lives of six people. The park remains inexplicably open (although the rides have been revamped), so we’ll risk a visit next week.