Inbev draws on Chinese history to lift Baisha beer's image

And other news in Greater China

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SHANGHAI--Belgian brewer Inbev is raising the profile of Changsha-based Baisha, one of the leading beer brands in Hunan province, with a TV spot playfully referencing China’s warring history.

Inbev, owner of 28 Chinese breweries, has been revamping local beer brands across the country by updating marketing and reworking brands, streamlining distribution and significantly improving product quality, according to Stephen Drummond, Shanghai-based group managing director and head of planning at Nitro Group, which created the campaign. Nitro won the account last year from Lowe Worldwide. “The Baisha brief was to reinforce local beer drinkers with the brand by leveraging some beer truths mixed with local, in this case ancient, history."

The ad draws on a real story about local warring states that took place from 500-200 BC, during which a famous general named Xiangyu found himself besieged on all sides. At the height of the general’s despair, a modern-day Chinese man enters the scene, advising the general not to worry too much and to enjoy a Baisha beer, after which everything will seem better. The general and his troops take his advice and enjoy a few beers, much to the bemusement of the surrounding forces.

"When you are talking local history you do have to tread carefully, but what we found from talking to consumers was that being an ancient story and the fact that the Baisha brand is 'their local beer' gives the Baisha brand the license to tell this story. Changsha drinkers not only thought is was a great laugh, they also understood the all-important message about the beer," said Mr. Drummond. Hunanese are "highly conscious and proud of their unique place in Chinese history both mythological and political. Hunanese guys also have a great colloquial sense of humor often drawing upon local history in everyday conversation.”

One of the first Chinese cities opened to foreigners as a tourist destination, Changsha's recorded history can be traced back 3,000 years. It became the leading city in its region in the early Han Dynasty (206 BC-200 AD). It is also the birthplace of former Communist party leader Mao Ze Dong.

China already is the world’s largest beer market by volume, but per capita consumption in the mainland, just 25 liters annually, is far lower than in more developed markets. Consequently, global brewers like Inbev, Anheuser-Busch Cos. and SABMiller are pouring resources into the mainland.

Now China’s second largest brewer, Inbev spent more than $18 million for full control of Baisha’s owner, Hunan Debier Brewery Company Co,. in 2004. Earlier this year, Inbev announced plans to build a new manufacturing plant for Baisha beer in the Changsha Wangcheng County Food Industrial Zone at a cost of more than $64 million.

Inbev owns a second brewery in Hunan province, Zhuzhou Debier Brewery Co. in Zhuzhou, making it one of the largest beer marketers in that region. However, regional brands like Baisha, which controls more than half the market share for beer sales in Hunan province, face increasing competition from national brands like Tsingtao, which also are investing heavily in provinces like Hunan.

Ad Age poll shows concern about Chinese-made products
NEW YORK--In a poll conducted by, “Thinking Twice on Made in China?” it’s clear that global consumers are concerned about the safety and quality of goods manufactured in the mainland.

When Advertising Age readers were asked, “Given the recent rash of recalls, do you think consumers will think twice before buying products made in China?” a large majority of 83% said yes. Several voters added comments encouraging China to undertake steps to fix its dented image.

“Excessive consumption is a key driver for the need for global sourcing and cutting corners-and costs,” said Frank Cartwright of Hyde Group Advertising. He added, “There comes a time when cheap is not the only driver for purchase decisions. Good value and good quality always win in the long term, in any category.”

Jerry Berkowitz of Jerry Berkowitz Consulting agreed. “The 'Made in China' brand is now-literally-fatally tarnished, and it will take a Herculean effort by the government of China to step out from behind their self-imposed eight ball and repolish their image as a provider of cheap labor. Until that time, consumers will look for the 'Made in China' moniker ... and will shun it.”

Several of those who agreed did so with a qualifier. “This won't be the case for every product category,” says Wendy Toth of Supermarket News. “For example, if a child wants a certain licensed toy, there won't be an alternative choice. However when it comes to food, health and beauty, and household goods that don't carry licenses, I think consumers will exercise their power to choose.”

Still, 17% of respondents don't think much change will occur. “In the short term, consumers may think twice, but as time passes, it will become less 'top of mind' and therefore buying habits will not be impacted,” said Toni Pallatto of ATMG.

Chinese basketball star agrees to play for Milwaukee Bucks
BEIJING--It’s official. Chinese basketball player Yi Jianlian, an athlete with the potential to become a bigger global sensation than Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, will play for an NBA franchise, the Milwaukee Bucks.

The player, who gained popularity at home as a power forward for the Chinese Basketball Association team Guangdong Southern Tigers, was selected by the Bucks as the sixth overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft on June 28, 2007.

He resisted joining the team, however, since he hoped to join a team located in an American city with a larger Asian population. Following two months of tense negotiations, however, Mr. Yi has agreed to play in Milwaukee, although the terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

With an energetic playing style and charismatic personality, marketers in China have flocked to Mr. Yi for years. Considered by sports marketing executives in China as a future mega star, he is backed by marketers such as Nike, McDonald’s Corp. and Coca-Cola Co.

Diageo hands Smirnoff to JWT
SHANGHAI--Diageo has awarded the creative business for its Smirnoff vodka brand to JWT, Shanghai following a pitch against undisclosed agencies. The win marks the first time JWT has worked with the London-based spirits giant in China. There was no incumbent, as Diageo has not advertised Smirnoff in above-the-line media before in the mainland.

“China’s white spirits market is growing. Smirnoff is perfect for mixed drinks, so growing the overall segment will be beneficial for many of the company’s brands,” said Michiel Hofstee, general manager of JWT, Shanghai. The WPP Group agency will work with U-Boat, an events agency that already works on Smirnoff in China.

Omnicom acquires Consultech healthcare marketing firm
BEIJING--Omnicom Group has acquired majority ownership interest in Consultech, a healthcare consulting and marketing company in China. With offices in Beijing and Shanghai, Consultech offers services such as strategic consulting, market research and advertising to multinational and local healthcare companies including Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Xian-Janssen, Ipsen and China Resources Corp. The company was established in 1995, and is run by Managing Director Jiang Song.

Samsung launches Olympic Torch Relay program
BEIJING--Samsung Electronics, a global sponsor of the 2008 Olympic Games and a presenting partner for the Olympic Torch Relay, has launched its Olympic torchbearer campaign. Through an agreement signed in April 2007 in Beijing with Olympic organizers, Samsung can select 1,500 Olympic torchbearers and use the Olympic Torch Relay logo in its Olympic marketing campaigns.

The South Korean electronics giant recently announced it will select 1,112 torchbearers from mainland China, while the rest of its quota will be assigned to nine regions, including North America and Europe. Candidates enter the contest by submitting a 100-word letter or inspiring story on the Samsung web site,, along with a photo.

Samsung will select individuals who reflect its corporate slogan “Push the limit for a better life.” The selection process will run through the end of next month, supported by advertising in China created by its in-house agency in Beijing, Samsung Advertising.

Schneider Electric appoints TBWA
BEIJING--Schneider Electric has appointed TBWA Worldwide in Beijing to handle its corporate branding through 2008, following a pitch against Euro RSCG and Saatchi & Saatchi. This year marks the company’s 20th anniversary in China, which has prompted it to increase awareness of its expertise in the field of energy management and efficiency in the mainland, where sustainability issues are considered increasingly important. Advertising will run in print and outdoor media, as well as direct mail, collaterals and events.
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