Seeking to drive conversation on the topic of menstruation among young Chinese women, Kimberly-Clark's Kotex is tapping the influence of a fictional online character with 150,000 fans chasing her dreams in glitzy Shanghai.
Given that China has the world's-largest online ecosystem and vibrant social networks where millions of users post constant updates, the giggly "An Xiaoqi" character, who regularly engages with her followers on the popular Sina Weibo microblog platform, gives Kotex a relevant online avatar to spread its brand message.
"We needed a social strategy that gave us control, whilst being able to build personal relationships with our target audience in a way that wasn't "advertising' or selling, but more da jiejie [female mentor] in style," Bill Li, Asia Pacific senior e-marketing manager at Kimberly-Clark, told Ad Age in an email interview.
"The character essentially played the role of a fictional [key opinion leader] and had a Weibo account created with video, hashtags, "post cards' and existing viral memes used to discuss period issues," he said. Kotex's media agency is Group M's Mindshare.
Like in many other cultures, young Chinese women talk about periods among themselves but the campaign provides an opportunity for public discourse on the awkward topic.
An Xiaoqi had been previously created by entertainment and social-media studio Thoughtful China, and her web videos center around issues that resonate with women in their teens and early 20s. Ms. An does her makeup, practices yoga and gets ready to go to a disco party. (Her tip on how not to get drunk on Champagne at a party: Mix apple juice and Sprite for a Champagne-like mocktail.)
Since the Kotex campaign launched last month, Ms. An's videos have taken a lighthearted look at their periods.
Two of them star Ms. An acting as a talk-show host dubbed "Da Qi Ma," a play on the slang term "Da Yi Ma" that Chinese girls use to refer to their periods. (Literally it means "Auntie," similar to "Aunt Flo" in the West.) In one, Da Qi Ma gives advice on what to wear during periods. White clothes are totally OK as long as one uses a quality sanitary napkin, advises Da Qi Ma, adding that she prefers Kotex. In China, as in many emerging markets, feminine-hygiene products are almost exclusively sanitary napkins; tampons are rarely seen on store shelves.
Feedback from the character's Weibo fans appears to be mixed so far. Comments include statements such as, "The advice on what to wear when "auntie' visits is really helpful!" and a question for the host: "I always have problems with side leakage ... still looking for something better."
But others said: "Why does this feel like a Kotex commercial, hahaha," and, "Is this the official Weibo account of Kotex sanitary napkins?"
Still, the campaign's creators say it's a unique opportunity for a brand to develop a rapport with consumers on such an intimate topic.
"Building up communities with strong, trustworthy, engaging and entertaining content is a no-brainer, and characters have been the compelling heart of stories for millennia," said Chungaiz Khan Mumtaz, head of invention at Mindshare China. "What's exciting is to see how a brand is really focusing on developing relationships with its target audience, not trying to increase its Facebook fans thinking that there's value associated."