Mind Your Business: Product Placement
Animation is an art form, but the animation industry is a business of production. Production needs money. Placing products into productions raises funds.
It's a simple line of logic:
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When I first started researching this article, I received comments on the subject of product placement in animation from producers, executives, directors and fans. The comments ranged from producer Terry Thoren (Rugrats), "Ain't done it. Ain't gonna do it," to studio executive Jeff Young at Starz Animation, "Our studio is a believer in product integration as long as it is subtle and fits naturally into the film."
Most fans responded with disgust like Mark Smith who said, "The concept truly disrespects the art form." But others, like Katherine Walsh, who said, "Used tastefully and infrequently, it could be a pleasant encounter in an animated film or on TV."
Who's right? Everyone is right. There is no singular correct answer, but there are some wrong ones.
There is a blog on Toonzone.net with a forum discussing product placement in cartoons. I got some good information there, but I also learned that a lot of people misunderstand the meaning of product placement. Plus, like on most internet blogs, I learned some new, disgusting sexual acts.
First, let's discuss what product placement is and how it differs from product integration.
Product placement is where a brand name product is placed into a production where the viewer can see it. Think Coke on every possible surface on American Idol.
Product integration is where the branded product becomes part of the story. A good example is in the movie What Women Want when ad executive Mel Gibson develops an ad campaign for Pepsi, right before he leaves the set, sets his gardener on fire and beats the women in his life.
Another great example of product integration is the hilarious use of Starbucks in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
I should also briefly mention parody of products too: When the name of a product is changed slightly for humor's-sake (like Pizza Slut instead of Pizza Hut, that's a parody. Parody products are not product placement. Of course, in a true parody, you don't even need to change the name, as parody is protected by our first amendment of free speech.
At first, I couldn't think of many examples of products shown in animation and neither could most of the people I interviewed. But, the more I looked, the more I found.
The example most people remembered was Universal's animated feature Curious George. There were three products/companies with product placement in the film; Volkswagen, Dole Bananas and the U.S. Postal Service.