Mind Your Business: Product Placement
One of my favorite movies, The Iron Giant, featured what may look to be product placement when Hogarth is seen reading a MAD Magazine. However, according to the film's producer, Max Howard, that wasn't the case. "That was done for creative and not product placement reasons, although what a perfect one it could have been."
Max continues, "Product placement in animation is pretty rare, partly because the imaginary worlds we create, restrict the opportunity to do so. Also, the films can be timeless and linking them to a time period thru a product placement could undermine the longevity of the film. In short, I think we should be looking to product placement opportunities but realize that it is a more difficult marriage than for our live-action friends."
Brand in Entertainment CEO, Rolfe Auerbach, agreed that certain types of projects are harder to place products. "Any period piece that takes place before 1800 is hard to sell, since the products would look so different now. We also don't deal with anything sexual or which includes violence against women."
I recently spoke with Tony Bancroft, Mulan co-director, about product placement. "It came up just once for me. In Mulan, we had a scene in the movie where Mulan is bathing naked in the lake when a bunch of her other troops strip down and jump in too.
"She doesn't know what to do so she looks to her guardian Mushu for help. So he bites the butt of one of the naked guys to distract them and after they all leave screaming, he exits the pond brushing his teeth in disgust.
"Now admittedly, it was highly debated whether to even have a scene in a movie about ancient China with a character brushing his teeth with toothpaste, but we justified it by the fact that a talking magical dragon doesn't exist either -- and heck, we thought it was funny!
"After we decided to keep the gag in the film, the very next thing that happened was my directing partner, Barry Cook, and I were called into a meeting with the President of Animation, Peter Schneider, who said, 'We have screened the film for some of our licensing and marketing people and they see an opportunity to have a product tie-in with the toothpaste that Mushu uses to brush his teeth. We don't have to put any packaging in the scene but if we make the toothpaste tri-color striped like Aqu-Fresh they would put big money into the marketing.'
"Then Peter added something, which I will thank him for the rest of my life. He said, 'But guys, it's your movie and if you don't think it will help the scene then you don't have to do it. It's up to you.'
"Barry and I thought it over and just felt that to make it generic white toothpaste made it about Mushu and the moment, but doing it tri-colored could pull the audience out of the moment. So we told Peter 'No', and it never happened."