Other than the fact that they're both sequels of massive box office successes, the two big films opening this weekend, Kung Fu Panda 2 and The Hangover: Part 2, couldn't be more different. One is for immature audiences and the other is Kung Fu Panda 2. KIDDING!
DreamWorks' PG-rated Kung Fu Panda sequel will go up against the Warner Bros. R-rated Hangover return in a battle for completely different demographics. And when it comes to product placement, the two franchises are, as you might expect, different beasts as well.
We counted 21 visible products or brands in the original Hangover (2009). In 2008's Kung Fu Panda, we didn't find a single one.
Panda's lack of product placement was a huge change of direction for DreamWorks, which loaded other animated films (notably Shark's Tale and Shrek 2) with brand references and product placement jokes. After Kung Fu Panda, however, the studio went on to make films like Megamind and Shrek: Forever After, both of which avoided product references.
The first Hangover, meanwhile, was filled with brands. It even went so far as to scrub one of the logos for its branded products, Baby Bjorn, from its poster.
The Hangover sequel is also coming to the party with brands in tow, only getting a green light to open following a legal scrap in which a judge threw out a copyright claim from Mike Tyson's tattooist.
One official partner of the film is "Last Round" Hangover Support, which removes 'the effects of alcohol, 'relaxing' the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, and detoxifying the body so users avoid headaches, dry mouth, and other ailments associated with hangovers."
As it's set in Thailand, another obvious brand partner is Thai's biggest beer brand, with Singha the preferred lager of the Wolfpack:
And because there are more 7-Elevens in Thailand than you can shake a Slurpee at, and because the convenience store brand has an official partnership with "The Wolfpack," we expect to see the distinctive green, orange and red at some point in the film.
Finally, is this an iPhone? It looks like an iPhone, but we'll have a better idea after we check out the film.
Meanwhile, Kung Fu Panda 2 will likely again eschew product placements in the film. That doesn't mean the film won't be a commercial juggernaut. Kung Fu Panda 2 is all about the tie-ins. But not all its tie-ins are as obvious as some.
Sure, there are the obvious Panda 2 partnerships with AT&T, McDonald's, Mattel, Hallmark, Best Buy, and foods ranging from General Mills cereals to Sun-Maid raisins, which added QR codes and the movie's high-kicking Po character to special packages.
But there are a few unique Panda products (Panducts?). House Foods America is promoting its Kung Fu Panda-branded tofu along with a campaign touting the "myriad of health benefits of tofu."
Dreamworks Animation has also partnered with Sanders Art Studio to sell a collection of Kung Fu Panda "fine art." Starting price, around $500 — and yes, that's bamboo:
Even so, the greatest tie-in for Kung Fu Panda 2 is "Chengdu." That's not a product; that's the region in China that the nation's pandas like to call home.
That's why the film's China premier will not be in Shanghai or Hong Kong or Beijing, but in the far-removed mountain city in the Sichuan Province. The film's art director even toured the area to scope out Mt. Qingcheng and "Peace Valley," which are featured in the film. This follows a 2008 cooperation between the city and DreamWorks.
A statement from the Chengdu government reads, "By incorporating elements of Chengdu into Kung Fu Panda 2, we hope that people around the world can learn more about Chengdu's unique culture and scenery, including our status as the hometown of the Giant Panda!"
It may be a stretch to expect that the film would inspire a significant number of Americans to make the 24-hour flight to the area. But the film is also very popular in China. In 2008, the first film because the first cartoon film ever to break 100 million yuan at the Chinese box office. And while it's impossible to make the direct connection, last month the Sichuan Daily reported that tourism to Chengdu was up in 2010 by 22%.
Maybe The Hangover 2 will have a similar impact on tourism to Thailand — although the bad reviews and word of mouth won't help.
Finally, in related animation placementation, the latest trailer for this summer's 3D version of The Smurfs is out and, boy, Sony just cannot seem to catch a product placement break.
As we noted in March, the Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation production is full of Sony-branded electronics, including Sony laptops. But as the latest trailer proves, even Sony cannot stop Apple from slipping into films, as evidenced by the MacBook at the 1:00 mark:
For more on what's going on at the box office, read Theresa Howard's new story, Hollywood Ending: Is the Reign of the Summer Blockbuster Over?