A seven-month contest, "Voice of the Next Generation," will tap into China's burgeoning underground band scene to find the country's best musical talent. From May through July, Pepsi will stage a series of local and regional auditions and concerts to seek out top bands around the country.
Drawing on help from Pepsi's national bottlers' network, as many as 5,000 concerts will be held in over 20 cities around China.
Bands on the shortlist will then compete in a national television show to be broadcast in collaboration with Zhejiang Satellite TV, one of the country's provincial broadcasters with near-national syndication through pay-TV platforms.
The winning band will receive a 1 million RMB ($146,330) prize, including a set of high-end band music equipment, a cash prize of 200,000 RMB ($29,200) to put towards the development of the band, a national concert tour to five major cities in September and October, and a visit to a studio in Los Angeles to produce an album.
The grass roots summer program "is a battle of the bands, looking for the voice of a new generation, a new band sound," said Harry Hui, chief marketing officer, Greater China of Pepsi's beverages business unit in Shanghai.
Mayday, a five-member Taiwanese group formed in the late 1990s--and now one of the hottest rock bands in China--is Pepsi's ambassador for the music contest and performed at the launch event March 31.
Blending of music, TV and branding
Pepsi isn't a newcomer to massive, lengthy contests in China. For the past three years, it has rolled out an annual Pepsi Creative Challenge, letting consumers take a direct role in the U.S. company's marketing through contests. Last year's promotion, for example, played into enthusiasm for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing by inviting consumers to upload photos and cheers on six Chinese web sites.
The "Voice of the Next Generation" promotion is not linked to the fourth Pepsi Creative Challenge, which will be unveiled in "about a month," Mr. Hui said.
While the band contest does let music fans take part in the selection process, the point of the promotion isn't putting consumers in charge of Pepsi's marketing in China. Instead, Pepsi wants to reflect and encourage changes it has observed in China over the past 18 months.
"Something very interesting happened in 2008," said Mr. Hui, a music industry veteran who ran Universal Music (UM) and MTV in China before he joined Pepsi in January 2007.
The band contest is a culmination of his previous experience in TV, music and branding. For UM and its Chinese joint venture partner, Shanghai Media Group, he created a televised singing talent content, My Show, in 2004.
Contestants attended an eight-week training camp in Shanghai, where they were groomed and trained in singing, dancing and acting, including firsthand tips from pop stars signed by UM in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The winner received a singing contract worth $120,000.
The show spawned dozens of copycat shows and turned Mr. Hui, one of the judges on the show, into a celebrity in China. But Chinese have changed in the past four years, with a growing sense of nationalism and community spirit nurtured by events such as the Olympic Games in Beijing, the contentious Olympic torch relay and the massive earthquake that devastated parts of China's Sichuan province in May 2008.
"We saw a seismic shift in young people's minds where they went from 'me' to 'we,' with a strong sense of collective individualism. They feel they can make a difference. What Pepsi wants to do is create a platform for young people to express themselves in the form of a band and a song. Seven years ago, helping individual singers was a prominent need. People wanted to show themselves and be very individualistic. What's missing now is a platform for the band sound."
China has few live music venues outside of key cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu. There is tremendous interest in music, however. The country has an estimated 25,000 underground bands and millions of guitars are sold every year. Music festivals are also starting to emerge on the local level, but so far, there is no TV show catering to bands and "no grass roots program that really speaks to and caters to this voice," Mr. Hui said. "We felt Pepsi could play a good role as a platform and partner to help this new generation."
Partnership with Zhejiang TV
Hunan Satellite TV has been the popular media partner for multinationals since the second season of its "Super Girl" singing contest became the highest-rated TV program in that country's history in August 2005. Pepsi has worked with Hunan as well in the past, but chose Zhejiang TV, a general entertainment channel, for the music competition after working with the broadcaster on a 7 Up campaign last summer.
"We sponsor some of Zhejiang TV's programs and have found them to be very creative," Mr. Hui said. It didn't hurt, he added with a laugh, that the broadcaster recently changed its branding to "China Blue." The color blue stands for emotion and passion in China, and "it's certainly convenient for Pepsi, since blue is also our brand's color."
Pepsi roster agencies BBDO Worldwide and Mindshare handled above-the-line advertising to promote the contest, while Tribal DDB handled a digital marketing campaign.
Pepsi is also working with the Chinese integrated digital music company A8 Digital Music Holdings to develop ring tones and a multimedia content production company in Shanghai, Ato Ato Integrated Media.
Pepsi may use the winning band's material in upcoming marketing campaigns in China, Mr. Hui said, "but it's too early to tell. We don't know what kind of talent we're going to get. But we're investing a lot behind it, so [the winners will] produce a song that hopefully will be good enough and popular to explore deeper levels of cooperation."
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