This Mongolian farmer was the world's first rapper?

So says Nokia in edgy viral spot

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BEIJING--Nokia has created Ncool, an online meeting point marketed with an edgy online and viral campaign about the world’s supposed first rapper--a farmer from Inner Mongolia--and hopes to appeal to China’s coolest consumers.

“We’re trying to do something different to extend the appeal of the N-series range to consumers who don’t buy into marketing messages that are perceived as being too corporate We wanted a more subtle approach that has more cut-through,” said Dan Wong, Nokia’s VP-multimedia sales & channel management in China.

“It’s not in your face and it’s more targeted. We need to push the edge a little more now in China.”

Designed to promote the N-series range of upscale multimedia-enabled mobile phone products, the web site is aimed squarely at China’s twentysomething urban, university-educated demographic, particularly in first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai. The site lets users post, discuss and argue about what’s cool, and what’s not--even if Nokia itself takes a hit along the way.

“If you believe your company is producing products people want, giving them control shouldn’t be frightening,” said Hong Kong-based Charles Brian-Boys, managing partner of Eight Partnership, the agency that created Ncool for Nokia.

“We target opinion leaders, early adopters, techno gurus, and engage them with cool content, make them in charge of the environment instead of controlling the dialog,” he added.

For any company, “that’s a big shift, moving from an ad model to an engagement model. The old world was about pushing a message, the new world is about producing something people want, providing value and creating things they can get involved in. Nokia is making the transition from traditional advertising, which is broadcast outward and is unidirectional, to a web 2.0 community Nokia facilitates.”

The centerpiece of the Ncool program is an interactive web destination where users congregate to exchange opinions, photos and links. Visitors can submit their profile to be shared with other users, as well as engage in real-time comment on submissions coming in, said Simon Xue, Eight’s digital marketing manager in Beijing.

The heart of the program is the “Battle for Cool”, challenging users to compete and vote to rank new gadgets, hangout spots and fashion trends--the site's three main sections--on their cool factor. The topic for the battle is chosen each month by well-known personalities like pop stars, artists and sports celebrities. The first one is Kelvin Kwong, an up-and-coming Hong Kong-based singer signed to Universal Music.

The internet site has been extended into a portal allowing users to upload content such as comments and ratings from their mobile phones, as well as preview the monthly winners. An N-series user section on the site rewards existing Nokia phone holders with exclusive content.

To get momentum going for the site, Nokia will seed a series of short videos on YouTube-like Chinese video sites like Tudou.com and Youku.com, supported by online, print and mobile advertising. The films, which are also forwarded by fans using e-mail, were produced by One Production and shot by the Chinese director Wu Ershan, who was born in Inner Mongolia but is now based in Beijing.

The first film, “MC Farmer,” stars an itinerant Chinese man spotted by a talent agency while he was loitering near Beijing’s Worker Stadium. The rest of the cast were local villagers, “who joined in for the fun,” said Mr. Brian-Boys. “By not using any real actors and giving it a grainy look, it’s more engaging, compelling and real.”

The video is a mock-documentary about a man from Inner Mongolia, dubbed MC Farmer, who claims to have invented rap music and even hip-hip dance moves, mostly based on movements made by his farm animals. (View the video with English subtitles on YouTube.)

In the first ten days the site was online, word-of-mouth publicity generated 1.76 million hits in China. Nokia expects that number to rise in December as partnerships start with Yahoo, Virgin Airlines and other marketers. Nokia is also organizing VIP parties in Beijing, Shanghai and other key cities for a few hundred registered users of the site.

The Ncool campaign isn't on a large scale, said Mr. Wong, but “the message has a simple concept and works at a high level we want to associate with.”

It’s the second webecentric project Mr. Wong has created in China this year. In May, he orchestrated Nokia’s sponsorship of Peter Schindler's 20,000 km tour through China by car to launch the N95 multimedia phone. The trip was documented with a mobile blog that attracted thousands of followers during the three-month expedition. (See “Nokia powers up N95 launch with 95-day road trip,” AdAgeChina, May 30, 2007)

Initial response to the Ncool campaign, meanwhile, has been “very positive,” said Mr. Wong. The first phase will run through the first quarter of 2008, and videos featuring different off-beat characters like MC Farmer will continue to appear. If successful in China, the concept could be introduced in other markets. “Right now, it’s just for China, but we have shared what we’re doing here internally and there is some discussion that other regions could build on top of this campaign."
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