TV REALITY SHOW SEEKS CHINA'S NEXT POP STAR

Created by Universal Music and Shanghai Media Group

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SHANGHAI, China -- In an effort to boost their brand images among hip teens and young adults in China, three marketers -- DuPont's Lycra, Hong Kong-based airline Dragonair and a fruit tea called Shang Cha -- are backing the second season of a reality show to find China’s next pop star.
Lycra is DuPont's brand name for spandex, a synthetic fiber that can stretch 600% without tearing. Lycra has become a major component in the clothing industry since its introduction in 1962. Although best known for revolutionizing athletic wear, Lycra is now incorporated into everything from hosiery and men's suits to sweaters and hip-hugging denims. DuPont is now engaged in a major Lycra marketing effort in China.



Called Lycra, My Show, one of the program's goals is to promote the popularity and sale of Chinese clothing made with stretchy synthetic fabric. Contestants conspicuously wear clothes made with Lycra and are showcased in “Lycra Moments.” In the first round of the program last year, all contestants dressed in Lycra denim for a week, and two of the hippest Lycra-wearing competitors were presented with "Lycra Style" awards.

During that first season, 100 million Chinese viewers tuned into the reality series, making it a surprise runaway hit.

China's version of 'American Idol'

The talent quest was launched last year by SUM Entertainment, a joint venture between Universal Music and the Chinese media conglomerate Shanghai Media Group. While some describe the series as China’s version of American Idol, producers call it a hybrid between Fame and Survivor.

SUM executivess declined to say how much each sponsor invested in the production, but the deal includes 30-second spots in all 13 episodes as well as product placement, sponsored segments (like recapping events from the previous episode) and brand visibility in a road show to drive contestant applications. The nationwide tour will be publicized through local billboards, radio spots and online on China’s popular Web site Sina (www.sina.com).

Universal is finalizing negotiations with a fourth sponsor, most likely a telecom marketer.

The second season will debut June 4 with a city-by-city audition of potential talent in Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai. Forty contestants will be chosen to attend an eight-week training camp in Shanghai, where they will be groomed and trained in singing, dancing and acting, including firsthand tips from pop stars signed by Universal Music in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Judges will eliminate entrants down to a final four, who will compete in the final broadcast Aug. 27. The winner will be signed
Lycra is DuPont's brand name for spandex, a synthetic fiber that can stretch 600% without tearing. Lycra has become a major component in the clothing industry since its introduction in 1962. Although best known for revolutionizing athletic wear, Lycra is now incorporated into everything from hosiery and men's suits to sweaters and hip-hugging denims. DuPont is now engaged in a major Lycra marketing effort in China.

to SUM Entertainment, which will invest 1 million Renminbi, about $120,000, toward the winner’s career.

Dragonair TV exposure

“We were attracted to the whole rationale of the project, because a lot of traveling is involved [in the show] and the overall image and proposition are very suitable for our brand,” explained Arthur Lai, Dragonair’s manager of marketing communications in Hong Kong.

“Universal is looking for the next rising star out of China, in a sense bringing China to the world and bringing the world to China, which is very similar to Dragonair, since the majority of our routes are to China, a very strategic market for us,” Mr. Lai said.

The show, which is broadcast Saturdays during prime time on Dragon TV, SMG’s satellite TV station with syndication to 200 Chinese cities, became a surprise hit last summer. The show was viewed by 40 million people in four cities, Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shanghai, according to Nielsen Media Research. Measurements are not available for other cities, but Universal Music estimates it was watched by 100 million viewers nationwide, based on conservative extrapolation.

Harry Hui, Universal’s Hong Kong-based president for Asia, said the program’s appeal is strongest among China’s “little emperors,” the result of the government’s one-child policy, “who feel like they are the center of the universe.” Lavished with attention and gifts from adoring parents and grandparents, China’s modern-day emperors are fickle, demanding consumers with high disposable income by local standards.

'Force to be reckoned with'

They are a "force to be reckoned with,” agreed Darryl Andrew, Shanghai-based managing director of China at Aegis Group’s Synovate market research firm. “These kids are quick to realize the influence they can exert [when] there are no older siblings to ensure they toe-the-line, and have fine-tuned their pester power abilities accordingly. Marketers have been quick to see the opportunities, and have reverted to all manner of tactics to grasp this opportunity.”

The sponsors hope the affiliation with a trendy show will improve their image among China’s street-wise young adults as well as boost sales.

“We’re very happy about the cooperation with this show, because consumers cannot buy Lycra directly. It is an ingredient used in different fabrics and garments. Therefore, we need to work with alternative brand-building methods to promote Lycra’s cool image among Chinese consumers,” said Patricia Lam, DuPont's Shanghai-based regional brand manager for Asia/Pacific for Lycra.

In the upcoming season, DuPont will dress contestants in clothes made with Lycra from the latest collections sold in stores like Esprit and Giordano, a Hong Kong-based retail chain, that are marketed in store shelves with a “Lycra Cool” tag.

Contestants drink Shang Cha tea

Contestants and judges will also drink Shang Cha, a fruit tea marketed by the Chinese company Guangming, throughout the series, and the judges -- Universal's Mr. Hui; Hung Tik, Universal’s managing director for Hong Kong and China; and a rotation of the music company’s pop artists -- will be seen flying to the various Chinese cities via Dragonair.

The airline wants to raise its profile among a new crop of Chinese consumers at a time when that country’s travel industry is facing upheaval. Young adults are more likely than ever to travel within China by air rather than train or bus and the government recently started issuing individual visas for its citizens to go abroad. At the same time, local airlines are rapidly improving service and safety standards just as Dragonair is facing competition from its Hong Kong-based rival, Cathay Pacific Airways, for lucrative routes between the territory and mainland China for the first time.

“China’s younger generation, particularly office workers who typically are well-educated and have disposable income, really like to go overseas to see the world. This group in China’s population is our primary focus in the years to come,” Dragonair’s Mr. Lai said.

Omnicom Group's Hong Kong division

The airline was introduced to the show through its ad agency, DDB Worldwide. The Omnicom Group network’s Hong Kong-based Asia chairman-CEO, Aaron Lau, and Mr. Hui have been exploring ways to partner DDB’s clients with the music industry for the past year.

The first season, which ran last year from May to August, was also sponsored by Lycra, as well as Coca-Cola Co. and Sony Ericcson. Contestants and judges drank Coke on camera and called friends and family from boot camp on handsets made by Sony Ericcson. Mr. Hui said Coke and Sony Ericcson declined to take part in season two because they preferred title sponsorship, which was already held by Lycra.
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