For instance, in today's comics, both Baby Blues and Between Friends name "Victoria's Secret," which was stranger than usual in that they appear one after another on my (alphabetically arranged) DailyInk page.
And they both kind of played on the shocking nature of the store, though from different perspectives. Not at all the same gag, just the same store. Which they named, though they could have taken the step of calling it something like "Cordelia's Rumor" or suchlike, if they felt such a thing were necessary.
I don't think such a thing is necessary and I do think it's coy and distracts from the natural flow of the gag.
(By the way, this makes twice in one week that I have thought of stand-up comedian John Wing, who, in addition to describing Canadians as "unarmed Americans with health coverage," said that he had discovered Victoria's Secret: "She's a slut.")
Further on down the DailyInk lineup, I came across "Sherman's Lagoon," which also had a pretty funny strip that continues a story arc I expect to enjoy, but in which he did change a couple of names:
Or do all talking sea creatures look like that?
Anyway, I found it curious that Jim Toomey changed the name of the Morton Salt Girl and Charlie the Tuna but left the Energizer Bunny out there for all the world to see.
Meanwhile, over at Dick Tracy (if you're keeping score at home, we just switched syndicates), there is a guest star from the real world in the new story arc:
This is obviously George Takei -- Nisei movie star with an autobiographical play about life in a WWII internment camp --though a look at his profile on IMDB indicates that, oddly enough, while he wasn't in any Dick Tracy movies he did appear in an episode of the Baby Blues TV show.
Not that I'm attaching any significance to that: Looking at his credits, it appears that the ill-fated Dick Tracy movie may be the only thing he hasn't appeared in.
What is particularly intriguing in this case is that, while they change "Takei" to "Tawara," they don't change Takei's spouse from a "Brad" to a "Bradette." Apparently, Victoria is the only one around here with secrets these days, and good for them.
My take on this type of name change is this: By making him "George Tawara" instead of "George Takei," Staton and Curtis give him some comfortable distance from the specifics of the story itself (he didn't really help solve a decades-old murder) and free themselves up so that the character can speak and act in ways that might not be consistent with the real person.
That's not a bad thing, though I probably wouldn't have done it. I've written enough historical fiction that I'm aware of the need to make sure the speeches you put in the mouths of real people are consistent with their attitudes and actions, but, at the same time, I trust readers to recognize that we're making this stuff up.
As for altering product names, it's not necessary but it does spare you from having to deal with knotted knickers.
Back in 1967 or '68, a friend wrote a humorous piece for our campus magazine about buying a Pez dispenser (this, you will note, was before most of the current crop of hipsters were even born, much less old enough to have invented irony).
In the piece, the candy set the entire carload of students into a cascade of nostalgic nonsense, and the parallels between eating Pez and dropping acid was plain.
Even more plain was the nastygram which arrived shortly thereafter at the magazine's offices, a stern letter from the Pez company insisting that their candy did not have any psychotropic properties and that to portray it in that manner was not simply inappropriate but potentially actionable.
With all due respect to Tom, the letter was funnier than his piece and, of course, sent everyone back to re-read the original article, which I highly doubt was the company's intention though it was most certainly a predictable result.
Using product names is, of course, protected under satire and fair use and so forth and so on, and, while you do have to pay to defend yourself against both credible and ridiculous legal claims, it's hard to imagine any of this getting beyond the nastygram stage, which is primarily used to protect trademarks by showing an active defense. (I've gotten one for saying "Clorox" instead of "chlorine bleach." Not as funny as the Pez letter, but they can't all be thigh-slappers.)
The letters are considered adequate proof of this protection; there's no obligation for anyone to take such an active interest in their trademark as to spend real money trying to sue anybody.
Use the name. Cautious approximations only distract the reader.