SHANGHAI (AdAgeChina.com) -- Still enjoying the popularity of its localized version of "Ugly Betty," a TV hit in China, GroupM's Mindshare is creating another sponsored series that playfully documents the office politics of white-collar China.
This week, it launched an all-digital Chinese-language version of "Camera Cafe," a short-form comedy series that was created in France in 2001, to help promote Nestle coffee sales.
The program has been adapted in 12 languages and aired in more than 20 countries in Europe, North America, South America and Asia.
The Swiss company's Nescafe brand is sponsoring the first season of the Chinese version, which is built around the theme of taking a break from work for inspiration.
Mindshare has licensed the rights and produced 60 original episodes for season one, airing Monday through Friday for about four months, starting Jan. 25.
The first episode attracted over 100,000 hits within 24 hours. The media agency is already discussing a second season with Nestle, which uses the show to promote several Nescafe products such as breakfast coffee, cappuccino and iced coffee.
"Coffee in China has been steadily increasing in popularity in the past decade building on what are its very aspirational values for Chinese youth," said Adrian Ho, Nestle's head of coffee & beverages, Greater China. "We feel that programs such as 'Camera Café' will help to further cultivate the coffee-drinking habit among Chinese youth consumers."
Each episode of the scripted comedy lasts four to five minutes and revolves around the day-to-day life of the cast as they are filmed taking work breaks in the company's coffee room. Each episode features the same cast and set, but none of the stories are connected.
The series was shot with a fixed camera angle, so Mindshare hired theater actors, not film or TV actors, because stage performers are more familiar with cues and the restrictions of a small stage.
The fictional series usually airs on terrestrial television but the Chinese version will run on one of the mainland's leading online video-sharing web sites at cameracafe.youku.com. Youku executives were very involved in the production of the show's microsite to make it simple for viewers to interact with the program's extra features or visit the local Nescafe site.
"Online programming was a no-brainer," said Mateo Eaton, Mindshare's Hong Kong-based partner-invention in North Asia. "In terms of time, cost, and value, online content-based campaigns easily outperform most TV campaigns, making them the best value-for-media-money in my book."
Mr. Eaton declined to reveal how much Nestle paid to sponsor the series, but he said "to do this for any client, it's less than $200,000 for a big season of programming. It was easier to integrate Nescafe into the show this time using online media, as there's less control from the channel operator and the platform is extremely open."
Like the Chinese version of "Ugly Betty," the sponsor's brand and products are written into each episode's storyline, with product placement and shots of the product being consumed.
A character who returns from a trip to Italy, for instance, only wants to drink cappuccino. Some storylines are set during breakfast, making it easy to work coffee into the script.
Brands make a briefer appearance in "Camera Cafe" than in "Ugly Betty," which advertises Unilever products such as Lipton tea and Clear shampoo, said Mr. Eaton, who put together both programs.
The level of branded content in "Ugly Betty" was "way too much," he said, because the sponsor's brands were required to appear for a certain amount of time. "In this case, we are the producer and Nestle was adamant about creating something that was fun and content-heavy to keep people coming back."
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