For Marketers in China, New Media Aren't Just for Ads

Unilever, Ford Among Those Targeting Youth With Content Created for Web, Mobile

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SHANGHAI -- In the burgeoning Chinese market, young consumers spend far more time on the web and their cellphones than they do on their couches. And major marketers -- from automakers to package-goods sellers -- are doing more than just advertising on these nontraditional screens; they're creating content to reach affluent Chinese youth who are tired of the giant government-backed TV network.

The online reality show 'Romantic Journey' in China is a first for the Anglo-Dutch advertiser globally.

To raise the profile of Pond's Mud facial cleanser among affluent, young Chinese women, Unilever will launch a reality TV show today that follows 32 men and women as they get to know each other through rock climbing, speed dating, cooking and other activities in a small village near Guilin in southern China.

While its themes -- romance, dating, travel -- aren't unique, the show, "Romantic Journey," is a groundbreaking move for Pond's. The series is running not on TV but on a microsite on China's largest portal. Five-minute webisodes packed with Pond's branding will air Monday to Friday until Aug. 29, narrowing the number of contestants to four couples, who will spend the final week in Bali.

The online reality show is a first for the Anglo-Dutch advertiser globally. The show was conceived with China's national travel channel in mind, and Unilever hopes it will run on Chinese TV eventually.

Traditional media losing its effectiveness
The company switched gears after it realized traditional media is no longer the most effective way to captivate its target market. Chinese teens and young adults, particularly in the country's largest cities, have no desire to curl up on the living room sofa and watch TV.

"The internet connects Pond's with younger people through engaging media and provides national reach with one single contact, so it's far more cost-efficient compared to reality shows on TV," said Martina Linderova, Shanghai-based associate planning director at WPP Group's MindShare in China, who encouraged Unilever to take the Pond's campaign online.

"We can be more creative and flexible with content, there is less censorship and we can interact with viewers directly. It's also accountable and measurable."

Unilever isn't the only marketer competing for eyeballs on the web with reality shows and other types of serial programming.

Ford's road trip
On July 17, Ford Motor Co. embarked on a road trip that will take 18 Chinese around the mainland for 21 days -- the length of time psychologists say it takes to form new habits -- to demonstrate the value of excitement and help consumers visualize new ways to have fun.

The campaign, created with WPP's JWT, Shanghai, was inspired by a recent ACNielsen poll that indicates 75% of Chinese believe excitement is a key ingredient to living happily, but few know how to have fun.

The excursion will be filmed in a reality-TV-style format with daily video updates appearing at Viewers can vote for the most exciting participant during the trip, and the winner will receive a Ford Mondeo car.

To launch its N95 handset, a high-end, multimedia, internet-enabled camera phone in the mainland, Nokia Corp. also went online and on the road.

The Finnish handset maker is sponsoring Project 95, in which a former professional race-car driver, Peter Schindler, is making a 13,000-mile road trip across China in a bright yellow Caterham sports car playfully dubbed "Miss Daisy" through an online contest.

Mr. Schindler, who previously was an associate partner in Accenture's China practice, began his trek through 20 Chinese provinces on May 9 in Shanghai.

Peter Schindler on the road with his N95 handset.

Updating travel blog with handset
The Swiss traveler has used Nokia's Nseries mobile devices to document his 95-day journey with entertaining updates and scores of photos at a Sina-hosted blog site. (He's currently braving bridgeless rivers and unpaved roads in Qumalai, a remote corner of Tibet.)

For Nokia, the trip essentially is a nationwide product demonstration for a fraction of the cost of a national TV campaign, said Dan Wong, Beijing-based VP-multimedia sales and channel management in China.

Johnson & Johnson promoted its Neutrogena skin-care line during May and June with an online series, "Journey to True You."

Webisodes connected beauty and skin care with topics such as love and careers by throwing dares at two well-known Chinese women, a fashion model who hosts business programs on China Central Television, and an English teacher who is one of China's most famous bloggers.

The series allowed J&J to build an emotional bond between Neutrogena and its consumers while generating "substantial consumer involvement," said Magdalena Wszelaki, Shanghai-based regional VP-strategic planning at Agenda, which developed the site. Viewers could submit ideas for upcoming challenges online and share comments about past webisodes, "allowing our consumers to become the messengers."

Following consumers' media habits
Marketers are following consumers in their drive to create serial programming on the web. The country has more than 162 million internet users, according to the China Internet Network Information Center, including 60 million teenagers who use the internet for nearly 12 hours per week on average, and 16.6% of teens are online for more than 20 hours a week. Nearly 100 Chinese go online for the first time every minute.

China is also the world's largest cellphone market, with 480 million subscribers by the end of March. Chinese youth view handsets as cameras, MP3 players, instant-messaging devices and now video players more than as telephones, prompting marketers to employ cellphones as efficient marketing devices as well.

Phones, like the internet, provide a welcome alternative to CCTV. Advertising slots on the state-run broadcaster have skyrocketed, with inflation topping 10% annually in the past few years. At the same time, young, trendy consumers dismiss CCTV programming as dull and old-fashioned.

"Chinese consumers tell us that using the internet is a must," Ms. Linderova said. "It has become part of daily life nowadays, and online activities like chatting with friends, reading or writing blogs before going to bed is gradually replacing traditional media."

In China's fast-evolving consumer market, advertisers are right behind them.

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Normandy Madden is the Hong Kong-based editor of AdAgeChina, the Ad Age Group's weekly digital newsletter about marketing, advertising and media in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
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