In 2000, BMW surprised the auto industry by developing BMW Films, an online series of short films that became a pop-culture hit. GM has taken a similar approach to promote the Chevrolet Cruze, which is made in China by Shanghai General Motors, a joint venture between GM and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.
The "11 Degrees" New Media Film Project is joint effort between GM, China Film Group and Youku Originals, the site's brand of self-produced online video content.
The project brings together 11 up-and-coming Chinese directors. Ten have created short films, one of which will premier on Youku's site each week through the fall. After all 10 have aired, the films will be combined by another director to form a single full-length feature film, which will be shown online and on screens at schools and universities. The films are also available on 3G mobile handsets via Youku's mobile site, 3g.youku.com.
The first film, a 20-minute short by director Zhang Yaguang called "The Boxer's Secret," made its debut Aug. 20, and is the second-most-popular film on Youku's platform, said Youku spokeswoman Jean Shao in Beijing, with over one million views during the first six days on air. "The film shows the hardworking spirit of the post-'80s generation through the story of a promising young boxer who faces struggles after an accident."
Each of the original 10 films features a Chevrolet Cruze car, and the scripts include ideas submitted by Cruze fans online. Viewers of the online series can earn points by attending events related to the film series to win a free Cruze car. More than 90,000 people have already registered to take part in the promotion through Youku or the Chevrolet Cruze website (cruze.chevrolet.com.cn).
The film is part of the Cruze brand platform, "The future is coming for me," which is aimed at young Chinese "who want to build a better future for themselves," said Tomaz Mok, managing director of the Shanghai General Motors business at McCann Erickson. The series helps GM "leverage the young and positive image of Cruze."
The campaign features "Prison Break" star Wentworth Miller, whose show is a hit in China through illegal downloads and pirate DVDs, as the show has never officially aired on TV in that market. The actor fits into the brand platform personally because he struggled to find work for years before landing the starring role in "Prison Break."
"There's also the digital aspect," Mr. Mok added. "About half of the marketing budget for most auto brands now goes into digital media."
|A trailer for 'The Boxer's Secret'|
China had about 420 million internet users at the end of June, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), including 363.1 million users broadband users. China is also the world's largest mobile phone market with 805 million cell phone users. More than 8 million 3G handsets were sold there in the second quarter of this year.
Ford Motor Co. has also invested heavily in online media, particularly to market its Fiesta brand, which is aimed at young, tech-savvy consumers. Last month, for instance, it signed on as the title sponsor of "Hello! Hollywood," a half-hour weekly Mandarin-language entertainment program that also airs on video sites in China including Youku.
Youku says 200 million videos are viewed on its site per day, but the company and its chief rival Tudou are trying to move way from illegal foreign content and amateur videos towards professional productions and long-form content, in part to generate more ad revenue.
"Creating original productions is a natural extension that takes full advantage of the internet video value chain that Youku has built. Youku Originals will extend online video media's value chain from the low end to the high end, and will create a new chapter for cross-media cooperation," said Senior VP Wei Ming when Youku Originals was launched last April.
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