I’ve been tracking examples of product displacement--instances in which brand names and logos are greeked or modified to avoid giving companies free exposure--for two years. After a few glimpses through my blog it becomes undoubtedly apparent that the majority of posts feature animated sitcoms, most notably, The Simpsons and Futurama. I’ve watched horrible shows (NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles...) in attempt to diversify the examples included yet the blog remains cartoon-heavy, which is a testament to animation’s ability to co-opt familiar brands and reflect back on consumer culture in biting, but playful ways.
While on the surface, brands parodied on programs like The Simpsons or Futurama seem critical of consumerism, their portrayals are done in very tongue-in-cheek ways which invite audiences to be in on the joke. My favorite parodied brand is Apple, which is Simpsonized into Mapple and has appeared in multiple episodes over the past few seasons. Apple famously never pays for product placements and would certainly not pay for a brand integration in which its devout customers and CEO are mocked, yet Mapple’s presence does wonders for the real-life brand. The sitcom’s pseudo rage against Apple capitalizes on its audience’s hyperawareness of advertising. As Jonathan Gray states in his discussion of parody and media literacy, in particular*/humor that speaks through the very form it mocks (even if animated, as in The Simpsons)*/lends itself to being juxtaposed to and placed on top of its target” (234).
Apple’s iPhone has even made an appearance in a scene in Futurama which channels Apple’s 1984 ad to depict eyePhone consumers as impulsive zombies fixated on the latest technology. Animated series offer us a distorted vision of our daily lives and national consciousness. The popularity of The Simpsons and Futurama, which was picked up by Comedy Central several years after being canceled by Fox, indicates that audiences appreciate complex brand integrations that push the edges of convention.
Works Cited/Points of Entry
Gray, Jonathan. "Television Teaching: Parody, The Simpsons, and Media Literacy." Critical Studies in Media Communication. Vol 22, No. 3, August 2005, pg 223-238.