China Mobile's M-Zone one of few brands to ring in the new year

Other news in Greater China

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BEIJING--China Mobile’s M-Zone service, focused on music, games and other youth-oriented features, has launched a print and outdoor marketing campaign celebrating the Lunar New Year.

Ads created in a traditional paper cut that is symbolic of Chinese New Year leverage the consumer rewards program in M-Zone’s music service, such as figurines of the service’s celebrity endorsers, which are offered as a reward for subscribing to the M-Zone music service. The cuttings are meant to stand out from the more traditional cuttings, such as one image depicting a DJ “scratching” turntables. The campaign, created by Ogilvy & Mather in Beijing, is running in newspapers, magazines and posters across China until the end of the New Year period.

Surprisingly, China Mobile is one of the few marketers in China to ring in the Year of the Rat, a stark contrast to previous years. Chinese New Year is by far the biggest holiday season in the mainland, and normally is accompanied by a slew of themed campaigns.

Why are Chinese marketers silent this year? They say several factors are at work. The upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing, which kick off Aug. 8, is the biggest reason. Many of China’s most active marketers, local and foreign, are sponsoring the 2008 Summer Games, and are saving their marketing budgets for ads that capitalize on their Olympic connection. Also, the Olympics have sent media rates skyrocketing on China Central Television, or CCTV, the country’s state-owned national broadcaster.

This year, said Tom Doctoroff, JWT’s area director, Northeast Asia & CEO, China in Shanghai, “very few companies, other than the categories that spike during Chinese New Year [like] household decor and gifts, have Chinese New Year greeting campaigns. In fact, the media scene is so chaotic, many of our clients avoid the weeks leading to Chinese New Year.”

“We have done very little in the way of Chinese New Year-themed work this year,” said Michael Wood, Leo Burnett Worldwide’s Hong Kong-based CEO, Greater China. The number of campaigns “is unusually low [because] most clients in China seemed to be focused on bigger plans leading up to the Olympics.”

Another factor is a lack of marketing excitement around the animal turning up on the zodiac this year--the Rat. The animal is seen as a protector of material prosperity, suggesting prosperous times are ahead. In fact, many Chinese are greeting the return of the Rat after a 12-year absence with relief, and are happy to see an end to the Pig, which is associated with a fiery temper and tumultuous times. For marketers, however, it’s difficult to find cute ways to incorporate the Rat. The few advertisers who did launch campaigns such as China Mobile and Coca-Cola, which produced a New Year-themed Sprite TV spot, include no Rat imagery.


Baidu launches Japanese-language search engine
BEIJING--China’s leading search engine, Baidu.com, has launched its first overseas venture, a Japanese language version of its web site, http://www.baidu.jp. Run by Baidu's Japanese subsidiary in Tokyo, it offers web search, image search, video search and blog search services for consumers in Japan, whose search engine market is currently dominated by two foreign players, Yahoo and Google.

Baidu is the dominant player in China with a 60% market share, according to research firm Analysys International, but is not well known outside China. However, the company believes its experience with North Asian characters and consumers will give it an advantage over American rivals.

"With Baidu's strengths in developing user-focused Chinese language search and the qualified team we have on the ground in Japan, and given the success we have already encountered after nearly one year of testing our beta site, we are confident that we can provide a high quality Japanese language search engine” said Baidu's chairman and CEO, Robin Li, in a statement.


Dunkin' Donuts heading for China
SHANGHAI--A year after it entered Taiwan, Dunkin' Donuts said it plans to open its first shops in mainland China through a franchise agreement with Mercuries & Associates. The first outlet is scheduled to open this spring in Shanghai, with 100 shops planned over the next 10 years in that city as well other sites in China’s Jiangsu and Zhijiang provinces.

The shops in mainland China will offer coffee, tea and frozen beverages alongside donuts, bagels and baked goods, including localized products like green tea and honeydew melon donuts and mochi rings, which are similar to cake donuts but made with rice flour.

Mercuries, a Taiwanese retailer, opened its first Dunkin' Donuts shop in Taiwan in January 2007, and currently operates 10 shops there. Founded in 1950, Dunkin' Donuts has more than 7,900 shops in 31 countries.


Hill & Knowlton acquires Rikes Communications
HONG KONG--WPP Group’s public relations division Hill & Knowlton has acquired a majority stake in Hong Kong-based specialist PR firm, Rikes Communications. Founded in 2000 by Raymond Siu, Rikes specializes in financial communications and investor relations for Chinese companies as they launch IPOs, such as Alibaba, China Railway Group, China Southern Airlines, Guangshen Railway and Huaneng Power.


Burger King moves China creative to Nitro
SHANGHAI--Burger King Corp. has moved its creative business in China to Nitro's Shanghai office, following a pitch against Young & Rubicam. Most recently, the U.S. fast food chain worked with TBWA Worldwide, Shanghai, which had to resign the account after it picked up some McDonald's business in China.

"The agency’s responsibilities stretch from strategy and creative to in-store design. Burger King is exciting for Nitro. This is a client who is not afraid to be brave," said Jennifer Tan, Nitro's Shanghai-based managing partner-exec creative director, Greater China.


China bans plastic bags ahead of 2008 Olympics
BEIJING--The Chinese government will ban the production, sale and use of ultrathin plastic bags, defined as less than 0.025 millimeter thick. The order will take effect June 1, two months before Beijing opens the 2008 Olympic Games.

A directive issued by China's State Council and posted on the central government's web site in mid-January, said China is targeting plastic bags because "the excessive use and inadequate recycling of plastic bags have caused severe pollution and waste of energy and resources....Ultrathin shopping bags, in particular, tear easily and create litter, becoming the main source of white pollution" from discarded plastic bags and Styrofoam containers.

In the meantime, retailers--including supermarkets, department stores and bazaars--are prohibited from providing free plastic shopping bags of any thickness. The decision has earned China a warm response from the international community, which fears the impact on the environment caused by China's rapid industrial rise. China uses 50 billion plastic shopping bags in retail outlets every year, according to Beijing-based trade group China Chain Store & Franchise Association.

At home, however, the ban is less popular. While some retailers, especially supermarkets and larger chain stores, welcome it, consumers are expressing more concern than support. A web poll conducted by China's largest daily newspaper, People's Daily, showed nearly 60% of the 34,244 respondents voted against the ban on free shopping bags, citing inconvenience.

“From the consumers' point of view, the convenience and utility of having plastic bags should outweigh the costs of having to pay for plastic bags unless the costs become too prohibitive," said Andrew Ho with Houston-based Chemical Market Associates Inc.
--By Nina Ying Sun and Steve Toloken, staff reporters at Plastics News China, a publication of Crain Communications
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