The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant began promoting its "Pond's Romantic Journey" series, believed to be its first online reality series anywhere in the world, on July 5, with video blogs that introduced the show's 32 participants, 16 men and 16 women. That was followed by pickup line exercise on July 19, in which all contestants had to approach and persuade the opposite sex host to perform a task, In that round, the group's number was halved, leaving eight men and women, respectively.
The series really kicks off on July 26, when the first of 25 five-minute webisodes debuts on ponds.blog.sina.com.cn, a microsite published by Sina.com, one of China's leading portals. A new webisode will be published every day, Monday to Friday, through August 29. Unilever hopes the series eventually will be broadcast on Chinese TV channels as well.
The program was developed by MindShare, Unilever media's agency in China, to increase sales and awareness about the Pond's MUD range in a format that "connects with younger people through engaging media," said Martina Linderova, the WPP Group media agency's associate planning director in Shanghai.
"In order to link our product ingredient - mud - and brand positioning, we created [the] Romance reality show," said Ms. Linderova. "Young girls and boys have the opportunity to interact in different situations to become closer. The show is about meeting someone unexpectedly, or having a romantic affair in a faraway paradise. Our intention is to give young people a chance to experience this. We will be able to observe how romance was built up, and how friendship evolved into passionate love."
The participants, all aged 20 to 30, were selected from across China. Early challenges, which can be viewed on the site, have already narrowed the field by half, with eight men and eight women appearing in the first webisode this week.
This group, including one male and one female host, is heading to Yangshuo, a picturesque Chinese village near Guilin known for mud baths in local caves, where they will take part in competitions including speed dating, rock climbing and cooking.
During the final week in Bali, the contest will be down to four men and four women. Tasks faced by the participants on the Indonesian tropical island include dancing in bubbles at a local night club and feeding each other ice cream while riding an elephant. Both locations are considered highly romantic destinations by Unilever's target consumer for the Pond's MUD product line, 18-25 year-old women with an average household monthly income of $198 to $661.
Unilever came up with the iidea but originally intended to run it on Hunan Satellite TV, which has a travel theme, said Ms. Linderova. "After evaluations, we recommended to run the show online."
MindShare's ESP unit created a detailed concept and led the production. The agency's digital unit, Interaction, oversaw broadcast and promotion. By July 22, the microsite had attracted 950,000 page views and was adding about 100,000 views per day.
"We estimate it will continue to grow at that rate, or higher, once the show officially launches," she added. "The popularity of reality shows is evident everywhere. Chinese also like to spy on other people's lives, but currently in China there is a lack of good local shows, [so we saw] a big opportunity in the market."
Unilever is not running TV commercials during the webisodes, but there is branding on the site and the Pond's brand presence is very heavy in each webisode. A Pond's logo appears on the hosts' microphones, banners are blocated on the sets and the microsite links to Pond's Chinese web site.