Branding,  Challenge

Fiction Branding… Part 16

More On Branding To…

Four branding posts in a row.  I am sort of focused on it at the moment, more than ever. Great stuff happening coming out of the Licensing Expo last month, so that might be the reason. (grin)

Two major areas of branding I did not talk about in the last few posts are “branding to setting” and “branding to character. Both are major items in helping both branding to readers and branding to other businesses. In fact, character can often be a major part of branding deal from business to business. But at the same time, setting and world in other business deals.

For example, there are thousands of examples of Hollywood licensing characters and not caring about the stories or plots of the underlying books. Common.

(And yes, on a post down the road I will get to branding to merchandise. Not this one.)

Now both character and setting often go hand-in-hand, but they are clear enough as major elements of value of brands to be pulled apart to talk about a little.


Setting can run from not important at all in a brand, to maybe the most important element of a brand.

Example:  James Lee Burke New Orleans’ books. The main character is interesting and of the place. But more than anything, it is the place that is the star of most of those books. Sure, they are also mystery/thriller sorts of plots, but go ahead, try to remember any of the plots or stories of those bestsellers. What you remember is the rich, thick, damp setting with all the feelings and smells and tastes.

(Two movies attempted from these books, both sucked.)

Example: Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt books.  Pitt is a memorable character in a cardboard superman sort of way. But every Dirt Pitt book is about the ocean, more often the history of something that happened in an ocean. The brand focuses on the ocean and undersea aspects. Dirk Pitt as a character delivers the ocean to the readers and gives us a happy ending where the good guys win.

But the ocean is always everything in all those books.


In many brands, the character is all that matters. Setting and often plots are just a way to deliver the character.

Example: Dean Koontz Odd Thomas books. No real plots in the books other than something for Odd Thomas to do each book.

Lawrence Sanders wrote a number of series with character focus and standard plots to move the character around in.

Lawrence Block’s three major series are totally focused on a character in each. The city plays a part and is great and real in all three series, but the characters live and are the brands.

Both Character and Setting as Combined Brands…

My wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, writing as Kris Nelscott does this better than just about anyone in her Smokey Dalton series. Smokey is a larger-than-life character, very, very real, and is a great brand, but Smokey cannot be pulled out of the setting and turbulent times of 1968 and 1969 in Memphis and Chicago. He is a major part of the events and the neighborhoods and social movements of the time.

So a brand-level character and a setting that must be part of the brand.

Again, the range moves all over the place. Cussler’s Dirk Pitt is a brand character but overshadowed by the ocean part of everything. It is stunningly difficult to keep a balance and I don’t think it is even worth worrying about.

But for the sake of branding to character or to setting, you have to be aware of what you are doing and what works and doesn’t work.

One more example:

My Cold Poker Gang novels are puzzle mysteries set in Las Vegas. The main characters change every three or four books and Las Vegas is the setting, but not enough to be worth thinking of as a brand. The cold case task force itself is a background things as well.

So what is the focus brand? Puzzle mysteries, really twisted, with happy endings. And old people doing the heavy lifting. When I take that into licensing, that will be the focus. The series would make a great show with older actors, a great puzzle mystery game. No one character, no setting that explodes off the page.

So having a cold eye about your own work as you go to brand to readers or brand to businesses or both is critical. I did not say a negative eye, I said a cold, realistic eye.

And until you keep learning copyright, trademark, and branding, and how it all works together, that won’t be easy or maybe even possible.

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