“Tiger & Bunny,” which just ended its first season, has been one of the most popular anime releases this year, despite that fact that contained blatant product placement for Calbee, Softbank, Pepsi and Bandai. The show features superheros called NEXT who perform acts of bravery about the futuristic city of Stirnbild, earning points as they do so. As their activities are filmed on TV in this fictional world, each hero is sponsored by a different company and sports the logos of a sponsor.
Characters include Pepsi’s Blue Rose and Rock Baison, a bull-themed hero who advertises the yakiniku restaurant Gyu-kaku. According to Tokyo Walker, fans of Rokku Baison have even affectionately nicknamed him Gyu-kaku -an. These companies are keen to capitalize on their involvement in the show: Pepsi is running ads featuring Blue Rose (see above) and Gyu-kaku are offering discount vouchers for a special Rokku Baison set meal (a pretty good deal for yakiniku lovers btw).
Despite anime characters being used to sell just about anything in Japan via product tie-ins, product placement within a contemporary anime is unusual, according to Nico Nico Pedia. One reason is that anime creators believe this would turn off fans, another reason is that once the toy industry got involved in anime and tokusatsu, toy companies had strong objections to introducing other products onto a show, so instead sponsers names were announced at the beginning and end of ad breaks.
But many anime creators feel that featuring everyday products introduces a sense of reality into anime, so, artists will either black out product names or write a similar yet subtly different names for everyday brands: “Froogle,” instead of “Google,” for example. These techniques show that the show’s creators care about realism but haven’t “sold out.”
However, the recession-hit industry is now experimenting again with product placement and “Tiger & Bunny” is just the most recent and probably most blatant example of this trend. Since around 2006, product placements have been increasingly popping up in anime aimed at adults. One of the most controversial examples was “Code Geass,” in which CC, one of the main characters, often appeared munching Pizza Hut pizzas. The movie “Rebuild of Evangelion” featured rather more subtle product placements for Doritos, UCC Coffee and Yebisu Beer. UCC Coffee strenghthened their tie to Evangelion by decorating their cans at the time of the movie’s release with pictures of the characters and still continue to milk this connection.
One company has even gone so far as to commission their own anime series. To celebrate their 35th anniversary, Nissin Cup Noodle commissioned the “Freedom Project,” a series which regularly features characters chowing down on Cup Noodles.
The success of “Tiger & Bunny” and “Code Geass” attest to the fact that adult anime fans are not averse to a bit of product placement, especially if it means higher production values. In the future we may see this trend spreading to titles aimed at a younger market, though it’s possible this tactic might backfire and instead stir the ire of many a parent.