Marketers Turn to Tencent, not TV, to Reach Chinese Teens

Mars Is the Latest Advertiser to Engage Consumers Through; Confectionery Giant is Promoting Skittles to Chinese Students

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Mars' Skittles site on
Mars' Skittles site on

SHANGHAI ( -- Mars is the latest marketer in China to partner with Tencent Holdings, owner of the site that has long been a favorite of Chinese web users. The Shenzhen-based company has 892 million registered users, and that includes 377 million active users.

Tencent's latest fans in China are advertisers like Mars, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo and Ford Motor Co. who want to reach young Chinese consumers.

The U.S. confectionery company is using to position Mars' Skittles brand as a catalyst for creativity, particularly as a way to escape the monotony of school life within China's regimented educational system. Mars created animated animals and games that disrupt routine school activities, turning teens' everyday school life into something fun and rebellious.

The campaign, developed by TBWA Worldwide and its digital division,, taps into the iconography of popular online viral ads and games on For example, teens can play a game based on their school's morning calisthenics exercises. In the online version, animated characters and Skittlelized creatures turn the task into a dance competition with catchy music and combo dance moves. Mars will release other playful applications and games on through the fall.

"The opportunity for Skittles is to bring some imagination to life in the mundane lives of the Chinese teens. We see every communication media as a platform of entertainment," said George Shi, a TBWA account director in Shanghai. popular with advertisers
Ads are also appearing in traditional media, but the decision to focus on online media, particularly, is a popular decision among marketers in China, where consumers under 30 rarely watch television, but are heavy users of the internet and mobile phones.

Tencent created ten years ago as an instant messaging site but as its popularity soared it has evolved from a virtual chat room into a major portal site with added services like online gaming, ringtone downloads...even a virtual bank. Users can use "Q-Bi" coins to buy items and merchandise on the site. The currency has become so popular that other online gaming sites and e-commerce stores have started to accept the virtual coins as currency.

Increasingly, QQ is also a home for micro-sites started by marketers promoting everything from candy to soft drinks to cars, especially when they want to reach young, trendy and tech-savvy consumers.

"QQ is the largest social Internet site in the world, with almost twice the number of members as Facebook. It has a mature social ecosystem with the most popular instant messaging client by far, blogs, BBS, and 'Q Bi,' a virtual currency so popular that the central bank is looking to tax it," said Sam Flemming, CEO of CIC Data in Shanghai, a research firm that measures internet word of mouth. "With such an active and engaged user base, it makes sense for those marketers who can afford it."

Procter & Gamble Co. turned to QQ last month when it created its first-ever social networking campaign for Max Factor, a cosmetics brand no longer sold in the U.S. but available in China. Women can create and publish their own beauty "Maxgazine" on

QQ is the "favorite Chinese web site" of Vivian Palmer, Ford Motor Co.'s Chongqing-based vice director of marketing in China. Ford launched the Fiesta in China last March with a campaign almost entirely executed online, including a large presence on

PepsiCo recently partnered with Tencent as well. The U.S. company launched a travel-themed web site under the 7 Up brand name,, which invited net users to share travel experiences and create a social network and ultimately, Pepsi hoped, develop romances. The site's activities and contest attracted millions of web users, according to Pepsi.

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