Parodied Brand Names in Anime

One of the interesting things that I’ve noticed about anime from the last several years is how many of them passive-aggresively promote brand name products. What do I mean by passive-aggressive promotion? Just think back to some of the anime that you’ve seen recently that take place in the actual world. I’m sure there’s at least a few scenes of characters eating in a restaurant or using some electronic device. Now, have you ever taken a closer look at the names of those restaurants or the labels on those devices? If you have, you might have noticed that they say things like “Parasonic”, “McDymaid’s”, and “Sudohbucks”, and I’m sure you can make out what real-life brands those are supposed to be.

With the exception of a few series like Code Geass, which shamelessly promoted the Pizza Hut brand, every other anime seems to beat around the bush when it comes to advertising. My question is, why? Why would an anime studio go to the trouble of making something just like real-life and slap on a parodied name? Why not just make a fictional brand, or even better, get actual brands to sponsor the anime so that they can use “Panasonic”, “McDonald’s”, and “Starbucks”. The latter option would also give them a higher budget to increase animation quality.

I have a few different theories as to why studios do this. My first one is that they want to make their anime as realistic as possible so that it’s easier for viewers to relate to it. I know that if one of my favourite characters ate at the same McDonald’s that I eat at, that would at least bring a smile to my face. You just have to look at what happened to Washinomiya Shrine after Lucky Star aired to see the effect that using actual places/things can have on viewers. Having been there myself, I can tell you that it’s literally out in the boonies, but thousands of people still go there just to see where the Hiiragi twins work.

My second theory as to why so many anime series use fake names is so as not to get into any legal trouble with the brand they want to show. From what I’ve heard, many people in Japan still look down on anime so it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that some companies would not like to be associated with certain series. That brings into question why anime companies use real-life places and products in the first place. If you’ve ever taken an art class, you will know that it’s far easier to draw something you can see than to create something using your imagination. With deadlines to meet, not using your imagination sure saves a lot of time.

The last theory I have as to why anime uses parody brands is because someone on the production team is a big fan but can’t get the approval to include the actual brand in the series. Maybe the director really likes Sony, or is an Apple fanboy, then it wouldn’t be too hard for them to get products from such companies into an anime. My guess as to why they still use fake names (and logos) is that they still have to deal with the legal issues of using someone another company’s name.

That about sums up what I think is happening here. Since I am not familiar with the anime production process, I can’t say for sure why they have to make up new names for existing products, so if anyone has some thoughts, I’d be happy to hear them.

PS: A cookie goes out to whoever can correctly guess the series these screenshots are from.

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  1. Nope, Tiger&Bunny too does “inside anime” promoting, brand names plastered all over the suits of the heroes.

    That being said, my take is that it’s probably a mix of everything you mentionned.
    Though sometimes it’s definitely strange, what is OK in term of brand placement in a manga isn’t in the animated version of said manga. Like Bakuman, I still don’t understand the need to change the name of the Jump magazine in the anime.

    What is kinda related to the topic at hand and that I just LOVE, is cameos from other manga/anime/pop culture things in other works. Like, Ao no Exorcist had a Wagnaria family restaurant, which is from Working, Un-Go recently had a Sky Doll comics, Gintama has a ton of cameos from many, many series.

    (And for the screenshots #1 Hanasaku Iroha, #2 No idea, #3 Toradora, #4 No idea again, #5 KamiNomi and #6 Steins;Gate
    Kuuki recently posted..Being a Fujoshi #1 – Defining the monster

    • Ah, I completely forgot about Tiger&Bunny, that has so much more advertising than Code Geass.

      Cameos are fun too, especially when you can spot a lot of them. I remember seeing Miku in UN-Go’s first episode and I was really surprised.

  2. I do wondered about that before, I would assume to be a matter of legal troubles. The we don’t want to damage our brand kind of deal I suppose. Still a bit weird, you have big brands already doing it such as the aforementioned Pizza Hut or all the stuff in Tiger and Bunny already why not be more pervasive.

    On another note, I never noticed that in HotD before, I wonder if that “Shaun” was a shout out.
    Miette-chan recently posted..This time let’s go out with Mio and Mayoi

  3. Haha, I was pointed in the direction of this post on Twitter — I have a Tumblr you might enjoy! IT’S A SOMY:

    One thing I’ve found by actually paying attention to this stuff is that the fake advertisement business is by no means a recent phenomenon. Fake brands have been plentiful in anime for quite a while now! But despite knowing that, I always do a double take when I see a fake brand in an older series, haha. It’s probably because I see it in such abundance in modern series since I watch so many more of them.

    As for your theories (not that I have any real insight or knowledge of this), I think your second one is closest to the mark, with maybe a dash of No. 3 in there as well. Anime studios want something recognizable to the viewer, but at the same time, they’re unlikely to get permission from the actual brand owner, so they inch as close as they can while still remaining in parody territory. Fake brands are so much more fun than real brands, anyway!

    • Haha, I like your site!

      You’re probably right about them being around for a long time, I just didn’t watch anime that took place in the real world until the early 2000’s.

      I have to agree with you there, fake brands are more fun than real ones, the jokes they can make are so much better.

  4. I loved the way Toradora subverted this when Ryuuji was in ‘Sudohbucks’ and he thought “How does this place not get sued?”

  5. I’m sure there’s a lot of legal issues with using names without permission. And perhaps depending on how the brand sees it, they may want the anime to pay a royalty to them to use their brand, not that they want to sponsor the anime to increase brand awareness. Especially as you say, if their brand is not being used in the perfect light in a sub culture media.

    • Ah yes, royalties are a matter I forgot to mention. I don’t see why some of the bigger companies would care, but I’m sure a few smaller ones might try for a cash grab.

      • perhaps the smaller the company, the more likely to want to cooperate in some way to get the word about their brand out. The larger the company, I think they will tend to see it as a parasite trying to leverage their brand to make a profit and will want to make sure they protect their brand from being abused (both from presentation and from trademark fees).

  6. McDonalds, Starbucks, Vaio, Sony, PSP, and more hahaha. I guess this usage of well known brand names, with their names transfigured, allows viewers to not be alienated from the show especially when they see everyday brands that characters from their favorite shows interact with.
    duqs recently posted..1/8 Samurai Tamaki Kousaka review

  7. Interesting topic, hearing the opinion of an anime industry representive would be interesting.

    At first some anime producing companies might have really cared about not getting into legal problems, because its a hassle if the brand owner complains. But maybe using these altered brand names became more of common sense in the anime industry, nowadays.

    I can’t really remember in which show they’ve used the real Pocky sticks.

    “many people in Japan still look down on anime ”
    Well, I look down on these peopleXD

    With so many anime shows produced every single Season I wonder if it isn’t already more than accepted in Japan. Or people are sick of it with having their tv timetable filled with anime :p

    give me a cookie, it’s Steins;Gate (maybe?)
    Fabienne recently posted..Suzu from Nagasarete Airantou made by Kotobukiya

  8. Making parodies are certainly more fun then using real names, lol. I also see a lot of gaming consoles like the PSP, DS, Wii and 360 being parodied in anime. I think there’s also parodied versions of Windows 7 too ;D

    As for guessing the anime screenshots

    1. Dunno ;p
    2. Amagami SS..?
    3. Toradora
    4. Highschool of the Dead
    5. The World God Only Knows
    6. Steins;Gate
    Kai recently posted..Yui Hirasawa Figure

    • Ah yes, I see a lot of fake consoles too, though I see parodies of windows XP more than 7.

      btw, #2 is Chaos;Head, you got the rest right

  9. Pingback: Christmas Calendar 2011 – Toradora 02 – Stuff « Anime Viking

  10. i think you are right. a lot of the brands dont want to be affiliated with “moe” or loli stuff lol.

    what if macdonalds was boycotted by a group of people, if it was featured in a loli or echi type of an anime? in case of something like this happens. they can say.. “what? this isnt us?! this isnt our brand!”

    but i can say that its fun figuring out what the brand is actually supposed to be lol.
    alucard13mm recently posted..Onegai Twins! Karen Onodera dakimakura by Cospa

    • Yep, I’m sure many companies would be wary of being featured in a loli anime. At least this way they can say they don’t support a certain series.

  11. I think it has to do with copyright rather than anything else. Animes are surprisingly very famous and well loved in japan. Look at the number of products that uses anime like characters to help promote it!

    It’s mostly likely that while the crew would like to use a. Brand name but the company was not willing to sponsor it because it was not in their budget plans for the year? Also, once you get a brand to sponsor, they expect that it’s plastered everywhere in every episode of the anime and have a degree of control. Some studio may not want that as it would give the impression of sellout perhaps?
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    • The studios could just ask companies to use their name and not necessarily sponsor them. That way, they wouldn’t have to plaster the name everywhere.

  12. Those are all convincing reasons, but I think legal issues are still the most significant reason brand names are not brand names, but merely something that evokes it in anime. Actually using brand names in anime without getting consent crosses a few copy rights and false advertisement laws, regardless of whether it’s a positive or negative use. Production companies would not want to take that risk and get sued. Plus, freely dropping names would likely preclude further sponsorship deals like the one between Code Geass and Pizza Hut.
    Yi recently posted..Life, Love, and Things in Between – An Usagi Drop Approach

    • You’re probably right, the risk associated with placing brand names in anime is higher than it’s worth. It would also make the big companies not want to advertise if they’re products are already advertised for free.

  13. Is no one going to mention “Hataraku Maou-sama!”, whose ENTIRE PLOT revolves around Satan working at a fast food restaurant called MGRONALD’S that has a side-ways McDonald’s arch for a logo, and competes against neighbouring fast food outlet SENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN?

    Also, speaking of KFC, you can see the KFC logo (or a parody of it) in the first opening of “Durarara!!” When Celty rides past Harima Mika on her bike.