"We're trying to do something different to extend the appeal of the Nseries range to consumers who don't buy into marketing messages that are perceived as being too corporate," said Dan Wong, Nokia's VP-multimedia sales and channel management in China.
Designed to promote the Nseries range of upscale, multimedia-enabled mobile phones, Ncool is aimed squarely at young, urban, university-educated Chinese, particularly in first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. The site lets users post, discuss and argue about what's cool and what's not -- even if Nokia itself takes some hits along the way.
"If you believe your company is producing products people want, giving them control shouldn't be frightening," said Hong Kong-based Charles Brian-Boys, managing partner of Eight Partnership, the agency that created Ncool for Nokia. "We target opinion leaders, early adopters, techno gurus, and engage them with cool content, make them in charge of the environment instead of controlling the dialogue."
The heart of the program is the "Battle for Cool," which challenges users to rank new gadgets, hangout spots and fashion trends -- the site's three main sections -- based on their cool factor. The topic for each month's battle will be chosen by celebrities including pop stars, artists and well-known sports figures.
At Ncool, users congregate to exchange opinions, photos and links. Visitors can submit their profiles to be shared with other users and comment on submissions, said Simon Xue, Eight's digital-marketing manager in Beijing. Users can upload content such as comments and ratings from their mobile phones, as well as preview the monthly winners of the cool contests. An Neries user section on the site rewards existing Nokia phone holders with exclusive content.
To get momentum going for the site, Nokia is seeding a series of short videos on YouTube-like Chinese sites such as Tudou and Youku, supported by online, print and mobile advertising. The first film, "MC Farmer," stars an itinerant Chinese man spotted by a talent agency as he loitered near Beijing's Worker Stadium. The rest of the cast are local villagers. "By not using any real actors and giving it a grainy look, it's more engaging, compelling and real," Mr. Brian-Boys said.
The mockumentary follows MC Farmer, a man from Inner Mongolia who claims to have invented rap music and even hip-hop dance moves, mostly based on movements made by his farm animals.
In the first 10 days the site was online, word-of-mouth generated 1.76 million hits in China. Nokia expects that number to rise in December as partnerships kick in with Yahoo, Virgin Airlines and other marketers. Nokia also is organizing VIP parties in Beijing, Shanghai and other key cities for a few hundred registered users of the site, starting with a Beijing bash on Dec. 7.
China adds 7 million cellphone subscribers a month. Nokia is the leader, with a 30% market share, compared with 18.5% for Motorola and 10.8% for Samsung, according to Analysys International.
Nokia and Eight will keep introducing videos featuring different offbeat characters such as MC Farmer through early 2008. If the concept is successful in China, it could be introduced in other markets.
"Right now it's just for China, but we have shared what we're doing here internally, and there is some discussion that other regions could build on top of this campaign," Mr. Wong said.