SHANGHAI (AdAgeChina.com) -- Unilever is tapping into family celebrations leading up to the lunar new year starting Feb. 14 as well as China's unusually cold winter with a charming digital campaign for its Lipton milk-tea product line.
"It's like Christmas for Westerners," said Jane Huang, Unilever's beverage brand-building director, China. "Families gather together, visit friends and share meals and drinks."
Called "Cup of Greetings," the Lipton campaign invites consumers to pick one of three films created by Unilever, featuring mimes, schoolgirls or a rock band, and upload a photo of their faces to share with friends by e-mail or on a branded microsite on Tencent's QQ.com service, lipton.act.qq.com.
When friends see the video, the sender's face is mapped in as a 3-D image over the main actor's face in the film. The greeting arrives in the form of a steaming cup they can blow on using a computer mouse or microphone.
The steam then forms a personalized greeting built around the Chinese character for steam, qi, which can be combined with other characters to create phrases related to good luck, prosperity and popularity.
"These are all things people want to hear at Chinese New Year," Ms. Huang said. "People are looking forward to good luck at the start of tiger year and only a hot beverage can create steam. We wanted to see how can we link these two together."
QQ.com, China's most-popular website, started as an instant-messaging site but has evolved into a social-network platform that is popular with consumers and increasingly with marketers in China.
"We partnered with them to get the most possible reach and the numbers are very astonishing," said Johan Vakidis, executive creative director at AKQA in Shanghai, which developed the digital program.
In the first two weeks after the campaign launched in 73 cities on Jan. 1, the site attracted more than 17 million viewers who sent more than 6.4 million greetings. More than 4.3 million users received greetings.
The new online campaign extends a story about friends gathering on Chinese New Year first told in a TV commercial by DDB Worldwide, Shanghai. As the friends greet each other, their words form in steam coming from the hot Lipton milk tea they are drinking.
"The idea is to extend the TV spot online by allowing users to send cups of warm greetings to friends that are revealed in the tea's steam. We added another layer to that which is content, not only can you send a cup of greetings to friends, you can also put yourself in a film," Mr. Vakidis said.
Web users who send 20 greetings get a red diamond on QQ.com, a form of currency on the site worth $1.46 to use for virtual purchases. The person who sends the most messages by the end of February wins a (real) iPhone.
Unilever increases use of digital media
Digital media strategies are widely used by mainstream marketers such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble Co. and L'Oreal in China, now the world's largest internet market, with 338 million users.
Last fall, for example, Unilever ran another AKQA-created digital program for Lipton, called "A Hug a Day," with Renren.com, one of China's largest social-media sites. Unilever helped consumers start virtual hug chains on the site. The campaign also had a gaming aspect linked to purchase. With unique codes in the product packaging, users could redeem magic cards allowing them to super-size the experience by stealing chains and doubling chains.
"A core insight for this campaign was culturally, Chinese people do not hug," Mr. Vakidis said. "Lipton wanted to own the opportunity to spread the goodness of hugging, linking it back to their product."
Last year Unilever also generated buzz about Pond's Age Miracle moisturizer with a blind trial program done online, and developed one of the first brand-owned online game applications on Kaixin001.com, one of China's most popular social-networking sites, to promote ice cream brand Magnum. The company also created a seven-minute film starring Catherine Zeta-Jones called "Alchemist" to launch Lux Super Rich Shine in China and Taiwan. The full-length film only ran online at uxfilm.jp.