Western marketers make music in China

Pop music promotions appeal to hip young adults

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SHANGHAI -- Multinational companies selling everything from shampoo to burgers in China are using music, especially singing contests, to appeal to urban trendsetters. Like in the U.S., music-based campaigns, events and American Idol-type reality TV shows allow advertisers to interact with local consumers. But in China, these initiatives give young adults an opportunity to express their creativity and individuality in a non-threatening format, as well as pursue fame on an equal footing.

“In such a vast country, competition is high in every sense, it takes a lot more to stand out and be successful. But you don't need to be rich, powerful or well-connected to experience music,” said Hong Kong-based Jessica Kam, who just joined Celestial Pictures.

Music 'experiment' helps Head & Shoulders

Until last month, Ms. Kam was VP-deputy general manager, South China at Viacom’s MTV Networks Asia, which signed Procter & Gamble Co. as the sponsor of its Super Talent Search in China. In a market with more than one thousand haircare brands, P&G is using the annual event to give its Head & Shoulders brand a more edgy, hip image among young adults.

“Competition is not just in the store but on the airwaves. Instead of starting from a traditional media mainsail of how many GRPs did we need,” said Austin Lally, P&G’s Guangzhou-based VP-beauty care for Greater China, ”we started from the standpoint of, who’s the consumer we want to market to, how can we reach them, and how can we do it in a way that is distinctive and cuts through the clutter.”

What started as an “experiment” ultimately transformed the annual singing contest into an equity-building multimedia platform including TV, digital media and on-campus events. Marketing in China “requires more than buying smartly. It requires creativity and presenting the brand in unexpected places,” said Mr. Lally.

McDonald’s Corp. also tapped music to refresh the localized version of its ‘i’m lovin’ it” campaign through an alliance with Sony BMG and Sina. The fast food chain developed an interactive promotion “to connect with Chinese youth and get them involved with the brand through things they’re interested in, namely music,” said Mark Blears, Hong Kong-based regional brand director, Asia/Pacific for McDonald’s at Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett.

“We have a message to put out about the personality and attitude of the brand. Music allows us to become part of the things that our customers love, as opposed to just trying to sell them things,” he added.

Wang Lee Hom replaced Timberlake in China
The jingle, already sung by local pop star Wang Lee Hom, was updated with localized lyrics and instrumentation. It was also expanded into a song on Mr. Wang’s new album and a music video airing on music channels like MTV and News Corp.’s Channel [V]. McDonald’s also created a micro-site with Sina offering mp3 music downloads, extras like mobile phone wall paper and ringtones, singing and dancing lessons starring Mr. Wang and a talent competition in which consumers can vote on musical performances submitted by fellow Chinese. Six winners will receive a one-year singing contract with Sony.

McDonald’s marketing team in China passed over Justin Timberlake, who sang the jingle in the U.S. and appeared in global TV spots, “because this market is too different. Here, you need local relevance and music styles are very different,” said Mr. Blears.

Last spring, Universal Music and its Chinese joint venture partner, Shanghai Media Group, signed up DuPont’s Lycra brand, Hong Kong-based airline Dragonair and a Chinese tea, Shang Cha as sponsors of the second season of their music reality series, Lycra‚ My Show.

Starting later this month, 40 contestants will attend an eight-week training camp in Shanghai, where they will be 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 will get a singing contract worth $120,000.

The sponsorship deal includes spots, product placement and sponsored segments in each episode, brand visibility in a national road show to drive contestant applications and Internet exposure on Sina. Based on viewership figures for the first season, more than 100 million viewers will tune into the new season, said Harry Hui, UM’s Hong Kong-based president-Asia.

Last month, MTV launched Battle To Fame, its own reality TV series in southern China, through a partnership with China Mobile’s M-Zone wireless service provider. Ten finalists, whittled down from 12,000 contestants, will compete for a recording contract in a process documented in five half-hour
episodes on MTV China.

As China becomes more modern and affluent, technology and mass media have amplified the power of music: “What you listen to, who's your idol, the concerts you go to, the songs you download, the ring tone you use on your cell phone, they all define something about your individuality and your lifestyle that has more and more significance in the minds of Chinese youth,” added Ms. Kam.
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