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Name that Brand (2002) February 18, 2012

Posted by shannonmuir in animation.
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All the buzz that arose about Adam Sandler’s animated movie 8 Crazy Nights offering to animate brands into the film for sponsors willing to pay makes it sound like product placement is new and innovative to animation.  Since it’ set in a mall, Sony’s been actively soliciting chain stores to see if they are willing to have product placement.  In case you are not familiar with the term, it’s basically the agreement to provide product as props to a show, — or in the case of animation, draw in the props with its logo clearly visible — often in exchange for covering some of the production costs.

However, as someone reminded me, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time product placement’s occurred in animation — just look at a certain famous doll in Toy Story 2.  It’s just never been pointed out so strongly before.  I’m very interested if product placement will become implemented more often as a result of 8 Crazy Nights or not, though it probably would not work in most of the fantasy/SF animated films that make up the bulk of the animated features released today.

Right now, most product placement seems to be confined to feature films.  In television animation, which until recently was perceived as strictly for children, there’s still an instinctive need to protect kids.  Also, with all the merchandising tie-ins to product based on successful shows, companies may not want to muddy things pushing other products.  Product placement on television seems most logical with prime-time and late-night animation offerings.

Since I interviewed for jobs related to this area, I’ve had to ask myself how I feel about product placement.  Ultimately I believe that consumers should be able to decide for themselves, and the use of specific brands visibly in a program is not in and of itself a big deal.  But when the brand names unnaturally get worked into dialogue, I think at that point (largely as a writer) it goes too far.  The dialogue just sounds too unnatural, most times.  The other reality is that the business gets more expensive, and product placement is an avenue to explore to cut costs and find needed props.  It just must be exercised with caution and care, particularly in programs children watch.

I want to stress that while working at a product placement company isn’t an animation job per se, it can put you in contact with companies that produce animation.   This depends, of course, on what animated productions are being done and what kind of product they would use.  If the product placement company doesn’t represent what the production needs (you can always influence them to shift to the brand you represent, but they must need the item to begin with), then there will be no connection with a given animation script.  Still expect the bulk of your work at any product placement company to be live-action, since that’s where most of the work is.  The companies ultimately broker the brand, not the medium.  However, if you want a potential association with animation, it is a possibility to explore.  Be sure to ask prospective employers how often they deal with animation companies and/or how they would feel about handing animated scripts if that’s crucial to you wanting to work in the product placement field.

(originally published 2002)

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