Already as a child, I noticed that branded things rarely appeared in fiction (at least in that which was aimed at kids). I remember when I saw “E.T the Extra Terrestrial” (probably during its 1985 re-release, at 5 years old), and being surprised to see “Sesame Street” on the TV in the family’s home. At some point, I noticed that many works of fiction across different media would have either generic products / fictional brands, or parodies of real brands. For example, there was a “Hi and Lois” comic where the family goes on vacation and there’s a “Deltoid Airlines”. Or there’s an episode of the cartoon “Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers” where the characters meet a group of mice that are part of a cult devoted to a drink called “Coo-Coo Cola”.
Similarly, it seemed exceptional to see real famous living people potrayed in fictional media. For example, in the cartoon “Tiny Toon Adventures”, there was an episode where the fast food chain Weenie Burgers is portrayed as such a popular place that even the President of the United States comes to eat there. Said President bore a surprising resemblance to Abraham Lincoln, although the cartoon was set in the present. OTOH, there was a different episode where the main characters go to Washington D.C. in order to get legal protection of their world from being cancelled by an anti-cartoon violence lobbyist. In it, we see, as I recall, an actual cartoon George Bush, Dan Quayle, Ronald Reagan, some of their wives, and possible other politicians of the time, who are not disguised at all.
I was well into adulthood when I learned about the concept of product placement. That is, that companies paid to have their products used or displayed as part of a film’s or show’s fictional universe. Product placement would likely explain this example I remember from my teens. “Beverly Hills 90210” and its spinoff “Melrose Place” were both produced by Aaron Spelling. In the former, there’s an episode where one character makes a joke with the expression “soda jerk” and shows another character what seemed to me to be a perfectly realistic can of Coca Cola. On the other hand, in the latter, there was a soft drink dispenser in “Jake’s Bikes”, a character’s motorcycle store/repair shop. This was clearly a Pepsi Cola dispenser, but there wasn’t any “Pepsi” letterning anywhere, and the logo was defaced so as to make it less Yin-Yang-like.
This brings me to my question: are there any laws that govern the potrayal of living people, real branded products, or trademarks, in fictional writing, films, TV shows or other media without permission? If, for example, the aforesaid Hi and Lois comic had illustrated an actual Delta Airlines plane without asking the airline if they could, would the artist have been within their rights to do this? If in the next installment, they had drawn a recognizeable Bill Clinton and had him addressed as President Clinton, would there have been any grounds for the President to sue them? Or if any TV show uses actual Coke cans, or any other product without permission or official product placement agreements, at what point does it become actionable? Surely not all references to real people and products in books, nor all appearances of branded products in visual media, have received permission from the living person, or trademark holder? (To say nothing of political cartoons, media such as “Mad” Magazine, etc.)
Would it depend on how the product or person was portrayed? I know that there are various fictional airlines in films that portray air crashes (e.g. “Trans American”, apparently a parody of TWA, in the classic comedy “Airplane!”), as logically real airlines wouldn’t want to be associated with a disaster story.