Diageo turns Supergirl in Baileys sales star

Music video promotes brand at karaoke clubs

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SHANGHAI--Diageo is riding on the popularity of a reality TV star to promote its Irish cream liqueur brand Baileys in China. The global spirits marketer is backing Shang Wen Jie, a 25-year-old who became an overnight star by winning the third season of “Supergirl,” a Chinese version of the singing contest “American Idol.”

Success and popularity have turned Ms. Shang, an administrative assistant at a French firm, into “the idol” of white-collar, middle-class urban women in the 25-35 age group, said Edan Xu, Diageo’s Shanghai-based Baileys' brand director, Asia/Pacific.

The “Supergirl” prize included a record deal with Huayi Brothers Music, a Chinese movie and music production company that is majority owned by Hurray! Holding Co., a Chinese provider of wireless services and music production and distribution.

It also led to an endorsement deal with Diageo, as the marketer realized her fan base matched its target market for Baileys. Late last year, Ms. Shang was named a Baileys brand ambassador in China. Diageo has sponsored two successful concerts in Beijing and Shanghai so far, and more are planned.

Her debut album was released this fall with strong sales, so Diageo and Huayi teamed up to create a music video for the album’s hit single, “Big Blue Sky.” Diageo is also helping Ms. Shang cut a Christmas album for release in late December.

While China accounts for 55% of all Ireland's spirits exports, and Baileys, a sweet drink, appeals to the Chinese palate, the brand has taken off slowly in the mainland.

“Our whole endeavor with Shang is an interesting way to market Baileys, which has struggled in the past here. It’s so unusual in a market where people don’t really know foreign spirits that well in general,” said Shanghai-based Pete Heskitt, head of planning for China at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Baileys' global ad agency since 2003. “Many Chinese don’t know how to drink it and who it’s for. There was so much information that was needed to get across in a marketing campaign, this has been far more effective, getting involved with Shang and leveraging what she stands for.”

Unlike some earlier stars of “Supergirl” and its numerous copycat shows in China, Ms. Shang is not a relentless self-promoter, and her humility makes her accessible to fans. But she is also an accomplished university graduate who speaks English and French and has traveled abroad.

“She represents a transition that a lot of working women in China are going through, and has created a sense of sisterhood with them, which makes her a fantastic ambassador for the Baileys brand,” said Mr. Heskitt.

"[Ms. Shang is] quite a popular celebrity in China, she has a following that love her music and the video. They are a good platform to promote Baileys with a soft sell, combined with sampling,” added Tan Chiew Ling, associate account director at BBH, Shanghai.

The video, which has several shots of Ms. Shang drinking Baileys, was filmed in Dublin, Ireland, the country where Baileys is produced, and directed by Johnny Tan, BBH’s Shanghai-based creative director in China. Like print ads for the drink, also featuring Ms. Shang, that ran last year, the film features a bright red sofa, which symbolizes sharing and socializing.

The video was released to local TV and radio stations in early November. At the end of the month, it was distributed to KTV clubs, as karaoke lounges are called in China, a critical element of the campaign.

Women commonly consume Baileys while socializing, so “the karaoke channel is important,” said Ms. Xu. Women frequent KTV clubs in groups when they want to share time friends. “They never go with business partners, it’s always with friends or classmates, to relax, have fun together and sing songs that express their emotions. We believe these moments really fit the brand. Since her video is popular at the KTV clubs, it’s free media and it’s media that consumers love to see, it’s not a hard TV spot that they want to resist.”

While Huayi is handling distribution of the music video through its existing relationship with the KTV venues, Diageo is educating staff on how to serve Baileys over ice or in cocktails, and organizing themed parties in KTV clubs featuring the brand.

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