Unilever Turns Social Media Play Into Magnum Ice Cream Sales

Kaixin001 Game Lets Consumers Tease Friends Online--If they Buy an Ice Cream Bar; Other Brands Like Coke, Lenovo Apple and Adidas Are Also Turning Up on Social Media Sites

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SHANGHAI (AdAgeChina.com) -- Unilever has developed one of the first brand-owned online game applications on www.Kaixin001.com, one of China's most popular social-networking sites, to promote the Wall's ice cream brand Magnum in China.

Kaixin001 provides an online engagement platform through viral applications, and users cannot register unless invited by a friend. The site launched in April 2008, and already has over 20 million active users.

"Utilizing the popularity of Kaixin001, we wanted to make Magnum part of the social experience, instead of interrupting it. Kaixin001's audience fits well with the targeted customers for Magnum," said Kelly Xing, manager of invention at Mindshare, Shanghai. The application was jointly created by the WPP media agency and Unilever.

"The games are also designed to drive sales," she added. Unique printed codes provided on Magnum packaging can be used to used to collect free in-game credits, in the form of virtual ice-cream bars. Credits are used to play the game, thereby "encouraging users to buy the product."

Magnum ice-cream bars play a central role in the game, which was built around the campaign theme of "Special Treatment." Tapping into the brand's image of sensual pleasure and indulgence, users can playfully and sometimes provocatively tease friends on the site. The more codes they have acquired from Magnum packaging, either bar sticks or lids, the more messages they can send.

The brand "opens up a greater digital experience for the site's users. If they eat more Magnums, they unlock more benefits on Kaixin001," said Brent Tollman, a partner for digital invention at Mindshare, Shanghai. "Unilever doesn't want to scream from the sidelines through banner ads which most people here don't click in anyway. The game is about facilitating better online experiences for users. In China, that's going to be very much about gaming and creating personal spaces for consumers."

The Kaixin001 game promotion, which will run through the end of July, is part of a larger online contest created by Unilever with another social networking site, Poco.cn, in which consumers accumulate virtual ice-cream bars for a chance to win a private Magnum party in Shanghai.

Unilever has used the digital media to promote Wall's ice cream brands in the past. In 2007, for example, Unilever created a massive online competition that tapped into the popularity of blogging in China. The company invited consumers to create a blog on a Magnum-branded micro-site in China or provide a link to an existing blog.

Consumers could read and vote on which ones they like best, and read the evaluations of Unilever's celebrity-blogger judges. By entering a unique code printed on the stick of a Magnum ice cream bar, consumers were allowed to cast five votes rather than just one vote for standard voting.

Sites like Kaixin001 have become wildly popular in the mainland. Research from Netpop suggests up to 224 million broadband users age 13 and above now use some form of social media.

Lenovo, Coke among marketers using social media
The Anglo-Dutch company is a pioneer in China when it comes to connecting retail sales with branded content on a social-media site.

But it isn't the only marketer there experimenting with online social interaction and bulletin board sites (or BBS) forums, points out Adam Schokora, Shanghai-based social media and digital strategy manager for China at independent PR agency Edelman.

Lenovo Group, for example, sponsored its own competition on Kaixin001 in March to judge the best-designed loft alongside a game in which users design a virtual house.

Coca-Cola Co. created an application that digitally inserts users into a rowdy Coke ad. It is hosted on iCoke.cn, but closely tied with 51.com's user pages. For instance, users can choose a head-shot from their photo album on 51.com to use on Coke's site.

Apple sponsors a branded BBS forum on Xiaonei called the Apple Institute that provides info such as wifi hotspots in Beijing and Shanghai and news about Apple products.

Adidas also has a strong brand presence on Xiaonei. The German sportswear company created a "Baskeball Superstar" game in which users can create and lead a fantasy team that can play in matches against teams run by other Xiaonei users. Winners can use virtual cash to outfit their team in Adidas clothing and shoes.

"These efforts range from curated BBS discussion forums to interactive contests within the confines of a particular social networking site to even more innovative offerings that connect virtual branded products with their real-world counterparts," Mr. Schokora said.

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