PepsiCo is appealing to this lovelorn demographic, as well as to the general sense of wanderlust felt by young men and women in urban Chinese cities, to promote 7 Up, its lemon-lime flavored non-caffeinated soft drink.
"The whole campaign is about inviting 7 Up consumers to liberate themselves," said Shanghai-based Mimi Vong, PepsiCo's director of interactive marketing-mobile & gaming in China.
The U.S. food and beverage giant has leveraged the "liberation" campaign through a combination of online and offline media by partnering with two major Chinese media companies.
Zhejiang Satellite TV is one of the country's provincial broadcasters with near-national syndication through pay-TV platforms. Tencent, a Shenzhen-based digital media company, operates QQ, China's most popular free instant messaging computer program in China as well as a popular blog platform.
With Tencent, Pepsi has launched a travel-themed web site under the 7 Up brand name, 7up.qq.com, which invites net users, specifically Q-zone members, to share travel experiences and create a social network. During the first phase of the program in March and April 2008, users were invited to create personalized e-travel "passports" by posting their most liberating travel pictures in Qzone, one of China's leading blog sites.
During May and June, they could upload travel-related articles and photos to help QQ and PepsiCo compose a nationwide encyclopedia, a kind of Chinese-language travel Wikipedia site.
During this period, users were invited to vote on entries. The top ten winners were invited to appear on a reality show created by Zhejiang STV and shot in nine cities in China including Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. (Loosely translated, the English name of the show is "Boys and Girls' Liberating Travel Experience brought by 7 Up.")
Helping young men get girls
The reality TV show has aired in China for the past two years without 7 Up sponsorship. It promotes dating in a country where romance is wishful thinking for many young Chinese. In each episode of the show, now on air in China, contestants are voted out but new ones are ushered in through a series of challenges. Most of them pair a man and a woman, and foster cooperation and romance.
At the end of the ninth episode, four finalists will be invited to Queensland, Australia in mid-July for the final episode. The winners' content from the travel blog site will also be published in a book, called "7 happiness," in partnership with local publisher Berong.
"Young Chinese are lonely, under enormous pressure, and don't have enough opportunities to express themselves," said Harry Hui, chief marketing officer, Greater China of PepsiCo's beverages business unit in Shanghai.
This is especially true for 20-something men, partly because the country's one-child policy has created a demographic imbalance. There are far more men than women in China, where traditional families often prefer baby boys to baby girls. Also, upwardly-mobile young women often seek relationships with men in their 30s and 40s, who are more wordly and affluent than men their own age.
As a result, it's tough for 20-something men to find a partner, said Mr. Hui. "If you're a young Chinese man in particular, you're likely to be lonely, but want to fall in love."
The online campaign, developed by Agenda Corp., was supported by TV ads created by BBDO Worldwide. The effort also includes packaging, in-store promotions, public relations and promotions on other sites like online Chinese travel service Ctrip.com, the e-magazine Kaila.com and Zhejiang STV's web site, ZJSTV.com.
Through June 15, the campaign attracted over 1.7 million participants and more than 204 million votes, and grew 7 Up's national unaided brand awareness up 17%, said Ms. Vong.
Average page views for the Qzone site topped eight pages per person, more than three times the average for the blog portal--and in a country where blogs are extremely popular. China has surpassed the U.S. to become the world's largest internet market, with over 210 million users at the end of 2007, according to BDA, a Chinese consulting and research firm. And 69% of those users claim to maintain a blog, according to a survey conducted this year by Viacom's MTV Networks Asia and TNS Global.
PCC reached half of internet population
PepsiCo's digital travel and romance campaign for 7 Up is "one of the most successful and unique activities among all of QQ's brand partnerships," said QQ.com's general manager, Peter Zhen.
Even so, the results pale compared to the company's third Pepsi Creative Challenge earlier this year. That campaign, called "Cheer for China," tapped into a strong desire among young Chinese to demonstrate their patriotism. Nationalistic fervor is running high this year thanks to China hosting the 2008 Olympic Games this summer.
The internet and mobile media campaign also gave consumers a chance to get their photo on Pepsi's packaging, which struck a chord with Chinese in another way--their desire to stand out from the crowd, a challenge in a country with a population nearly reaching 1.5 billion people. (See also, "Pepsi's third challenge contest keeps consumers in charge," AdAgeChina, April 23, 2008.)
During a nine-week period from March to May 2008, 28 million Chinese took part in the campaign, submitting nearly five million photos and registering 45 million votes. Overall, the campaign attracted 122 million unique visitors across all six sites that took part in the campaign--Netease, Xiaonei.com, Taobao.com, 51.com, Poco.cn and iPartment. By comparison, last year's competition, the second Pepsi Creative Challenge, attracted over 25 million unique visitors and nearly 144 million votes.
"Pepsi's reach expanded significantly because we used more mobile media and partnered with a greater number of web sites this year. That let us target people in different communities," said Mr. Hui. "But the results were far greater than we expected. The campaign reached about half of the total internet population in China. Our engagement level has reached a critical mass I've never seen before. Also, we received more than one million photo submissions through mobile phones. That's unbelievable."