This article’s title will mean nothing unless you have seen the M&S advertising campaign that has been running in the UK for the last couple of years (here is an example). In fact, you probably have never even heard of M&S and yet, even without any context, you will have picked up on the idea that a M&S +1 Sword is better than a normal one. This is the magic of brand names and this article is all about using them to make your fantasy or SF world more interesting.
Brand Name Magic
Brand names are just shorthand. Saying something is made by Gucci is shorthand for saying it is expensive and stylish. Where as, saying its made by Wal-Mart tell us it is cheap and ubiquitous. What marketeers do, by clever adverts, is installing that short-hand into our brains without us noticing. For example, the M&S adverts never actually say their food is better than any other food but they imply it is. Repeat that message across hundreds of adverts and everyone in the UK knows that M&S food is better than food from other shops.
Do you want a battle axe or a Dwarven battle axe?
Brand name magic starts by simply by putting a brand name on a product. Our brains assume that if someone goes to the effort of saying it is a Dwarven battle axe then it must be better than regular battle axe. After all, why mention it at all unless it is important?
Do you want to be Bourne or Bond?
The second part of brand name magic is association, linking the product with the right image. Role models play an important part in this. In people’s minds Jason Bourne and Jame Bond are linked with two very different sets of images and emotions. If you want your product to be seen as stylish, you want James Bond to be use it, e.g. an Aston Martin. If you want your product to be seen as tough and dependable, get Jason Bourne to use it, e.g. a Jeep.
Say the devil’s name three times and he shall appear
Repetition is the last key to brand name magic. The more a brand name is repeated or seen, the more it sinks into the brain. If you see an advert three times over the course of a few days, it will be in your head, possibly for years.
Brand Name Magic in Fantasy & SF Worlds
Why use brand names in your RPG world? Because they add colour and depth. Brand names work because there is something hard wired in our brains that draws us to them. They give us something to brag about, to mark ourselves as different from other people. Your players are no different. Give them brand names and they will use them, bringing a whole new depth to your world.
Branding: Species, Places and People
The easiest way to create brands is to name them after the people who make the goods. Depending on your world, it could be a whole species (an Elven cloak), the place that makes it (Scotch whisky) or the person behind it (Gucci handbags). It doesn’t matter what the product is, a sword, a spaceship or wine, you can brand it.
The King and his Elven Sword
Role-models define a brand’s image so the rich and famous NPCs in your world must use brand name products. This adds character to you NPCs and reinforces the brand on the players. Every time the King is seen, mention the Elven sword at his side. When the great wizard appears, his ruby rings are made by Dwarvish craftsmen. Start this when the characters are 1st level and they will soon be aspiring after your brand names.
Top Price = Top Quality?
Brand name products cost more because brand name products are better than normal goods, right? Well maybe. Brand name products do cost more but whether they give the player any advantage is up to the GM. The differences might be subtle. A Burleigh & Stronginthearm crossbow might be a perfectly normal crossbow except it has 25% more range. Where as an Elven sword might always give a +1 to hit on top of all other bonuses because of its exquisite balance.
Brands with no benefits can bring benefits
Every culture has the equivalent to an Armani suit. Depending on the game it might be the best tailor in the city or a zero-g fashion house. Brand name clothes have no direct benefit to a player but the smart GM will find a way to reward the player who buys them. Maybe they’re character bumps into an important NPC in the tailors or gets into a posh venue when other characters struggle. The possibilities are endless to a smart GM.
Brand Names Bring Magic to Your World
To players and GMs the real magic of brand names is that they bring a world to life. They make NPCs standout from the crowd and gives players a way of defining their characters.