Artful Mockers: Brand Parodies Amplified Through Animation

Curator's Note

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.

Product Displacement blog


When I saw your post title I thought immediately of the Oscar-winning animated short film Logorama from a few years ago.  Both it and the animations you cite are fascinating for the way they, as commercial products themselves, poke fun at the idea of brands while incorporating that satiric quality into their own brand.

Great post. Glad folks are thinking about the dual role of poking fun at the products we all use yet in some way, upholds the very object of parody. The post made me think about the writers, who are also part of this hypercommercial environment. In thinking about the absurd possibility of Apple approaching the Futurama writers, I was reminded of an instance of blatant product integration and parody in another cartoon. Aqua Teen Hunger Force "integrated" Boost Mobile and Axe body spray:

 Thanks for commenting, Sam! I think in many instances of product displacement, brands come out winners. People are savvy enough to decipher and look beyond any changes in logo and they don't come across as desperate for attention.

Thanks, Lauren! While I'm not aware of The Simpsons or Futurama writers playing into advertiser suggestions, 30 Rock is loaded with examples of writers calling attention to brand integrations Wayne's World-style. I've once read 30 Rock's narrative style compared to those of cartoons.  Hmm...  Love the clip!

Thanks for sharing, Chris! I'm itching to see that film.  I've contacted the PR folks to see if I can attend a screening. As much as it made be framed that the brands in Spurlock's film took a risk in  becoming sponsors, they're gaining exposure and "transparency" points.

It's worth noting that the only instance (that I'm aware of) of a brand paying to be greeked/displaced was Goodyear in the Disney/Pixar film Cars.


I watch the Nickelodeon show called “iCarly” with my younger siblings from time to time, and notice these brand parodies right and left. The most notable mock-logo would be the pear brand laptop that Carly uses. A white pear with a bite taken out of the side is obviously a parodied apple logo. On top of that, the show itself is named after apple products- iMac, iPod, iPad, etc.  

Apple is not the only name brand being mocked in this television series though; various other big names are also being mocked. Skybucks(Starbucks), commercials for the product Shampow!(Shamwow!), The Dingo Channel(Disney Channel), America Sings(American Idol), and Pepi Cola(Pepsi) are a few good examples. These companies are some of the largest monopolies out on the market, so none of the companies mocked were very likely to pay for the product placements, they are simply placed in the episode to poke fun at these large corporations. Young viewers and adults together can recognize and get comical enjoyment out of these parodies. 

I've actually seen the episodes in both The Simpsons and Futurama that parody Apple. It is very ironic that this "product displacement" could have such a positive effect on Apple. I for one find these parodies hilarious and very true, yet I am still using Apple products like the MacBook Pro, the iPod, and the iPad. There are other shows though that don't attempt to alter the namesake of the corporation they are parodying. The best example of this that I can think of is South Park. One of their recent episodes this year parodied the Apple iPad. In this episode they didn't attempt to alter the namesake of either the corporation or the product, they called the corporation Apple and the product the iPad. They even referred to Apple CEO Steve Jobs by his actual name. But while they are giving Apple free exposure they are also portraying them as well as their customers in a very negative light.

I feel like the use of relevant images from our daily lives creates a sense of liveness to the narrative flow of these episodes. Even though they are creating a commentary toward the "hyperawareness" as stated creates a media catalyst which propogates and reinforces the awarness of these images but also complicates those images position within the our society. That episode of The Simpsons creates a visual intertextuality, although comedic its presence establishes it as a character in modern television narratives.  The presence and refelection of advertisments in television will always exists, programes that utilize this truth benefit from it the most. 

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