The Dreamworks Animation studio's box office hit Megamind took it to the bank this weekend, taking in close to $50 million and contributing to setting a first weekend of November box office record.
Megamind also represents a landmark in product placement for animated films. Not because Megamind is chock full of product placement; but because the film is almost completely free of recognizable products. In fact, the only brand name that can be found in the whole film (Jean Paul Gaultier) is spoken in a passing joke about men's cologne.
What's more, Megamind also has no product placement "jokes," the likes of which were so prevalent in the Shrek series. That is, until the most recent Shrek film, another brand-less children's film that signaled the trend that Megamind now confirms. Product placement in animated children's films might be dead.
The last decade of Dreamworks Animation films is a perfect case study of how the popularity of product placement in children's films has waned and brought the studio back to where it began.
In 2001, the studio's first film, Shrek, featured zero brands. There were a few jokes about Disney, but mostly the film was clear of product placement. Three years later, that all changed with the release of the studio's blockbusters Shark Tale and Shrek 2. Both films featured only a few real product mentions, yet were packed to the gills with product placement jokes. For example, both spoofed versions of Burger King ("Burger Prince," "Fish King") and Old Navy ("Old Knavery," "Old Wavy"). Shark Tale, a movie that takes place underwater, features an improbable product placement joke about the donut brand Krispy Kreme ("Kruppy Kreme") Parents began to grumble. A year later, Dreamworks' Madagascar featured over 20 product placements, including the real Krispy Kreme. Only the "Spalding" joke on Castaway's "Wilson" was forgivable.
In 2007, the studio's two hit animated films Bee Movie and Shrek 3 were more of the same, with the former featuring, amongst others, Cinnabon and the latter a cornucopia of product jokes including Versachery and Ye Olde Foot Locker.
Shrek 3, a children's film, was an all new low for Dreamworks as it included a product placement joke about, no kidding, "Ye Old Hooters."
But then in 2008, something started to change. The studio released two films (Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Kung Fu Panda) that between them only featured one branded product (Apple). This trend continued a year later with the Dreamworks' film Monsters and Aliens with only one visible product.
Now, 2010, where all three of Dreamworks Animation studio's blockbusters, Shrek: Forever After, How to Train Your Dragon, and Megamind, share but a single product placement amongst them. Next year will prove once and for all if Dreamworks Animation has gone product-free as the studio will release both Kung Fu Panda 2 and Shrek-offshoot Puss in Boots.
Dreamworks may have transitioned its films to remove product placement as an answer to parent criticism. But there is a practical reason to keep animated films free of product placement too: Longevity.
In fact, when it comes to product placement, Dreamworks Animation's films are beginning to resemble those of the market leader, Pixar. Pixar studios has always understood that keeping its films free of product placements increases those films' chances of achieving iconic status. The Incredibles, Monster, Inc, Wall-E, and Up feature but a couple products amongst them. Even Cars and the Toy Story franchise, which are fundamentally about brands (cars/toys), go to pains to remain free of products. Pixar's undersea film, Finding Nemo, remains a children's favorite, while Shark Tale loses relevance with each passing year.
Dreamworks may have come to realize this and flat-out copied Pixar's product placement blueprint when it came to Megamind. Indeed, Pixar's still wildly popular superhero comedy The Incredibles features almost zero product placements except for one inside joke... about men's cologne Hai Karate (below).
Go to Brandcameo for a full rundown of product placements in numerber one films so far this year.