Forget creatives: Pepsi has Chinese consumers

Online contest to develop TV ad harnesses power of country's digital lifestyle

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[shanghai, china] PepsiCo's latest TV spot in China was the brainchild of Li Ming, a high-school teacher in the quiet province of Zhejiang on China's southeast coast.

Mr. Li's unlikely path to China's ad world and stardom was the Pepsi Creative Challenge. The contest, started by the beverage marketer in May, dramatically highlights the importance of the internet for marketers in China and the growth of user-generated content there.

The promotion invited consumers to develop the next Pepsi TV commercial starring Asian pop-music superstar Jay Chou. They submitted almost 27,000 scripts in six weeks by logging on to a microsite ( created with Netease, one of the country's leading portals.

Site visitors scored the scripts, and every two weeks, Mr. Chou and Pepsi executives picked the top five ideas from the 100 highest-scoring entries. To help promote the contest, China's Back Dorm Boys, a pair of lip-syncing "net celebrities" sponsored by Pepsi, acted out scripts in their dorm room. The video clips were posted on

When the competition narrowed to 15 finalists, millions voted for their favorite scripts. Mr. Li took home the $12,500 grand prize-more than a teacher in China earns in a year-and participated in production meetings to cast the spot and select props and shoot locations. His victory owed a great deal to buzz generated by his students, who spent their summer vacations campaigning for his script online and canvassing city streets on his behalf.

Paying tolls

In Mr. Li's story, Mr. Chou travels back in time and tries to cross a rope bridge, but he doesn't have the two shells required by the primitive people to cross the bridge. He looks through his bag to find something to offer them and pulls out a can of Pepsi. A curious native asks for the Pepsi and lets Mr. Chou cross the bridge.

The next time, Mr. Chou tries to cross with his girlfriend and is prepared with four shells, only to find the toll has been raised to a can of Pepsi per person. But he has only one can left. The native points to a stand where a Pepsi is selling for 50 shells.

Pepsi held online auditions for consumers to act in the commercial with Mr. Chou. Chengdu-based Guo Guo, who won the female role, learned of the contest while instant messaging with an online friend from Beijing. She auditioned by uploading photos, and sent e-mails and instant messages asking hundreds of friends to vote for her. A boy named Schell, whom she knew only through blogs, visited the Pepsi site to support Guo Guo and decided to audition himself.

"Combined, Guo Guo and Schell's friends and their friends and their friends' friends generated hundreds of thousands of votes for them, making them the winner of the online audition," said Chris Pan, marketing director for Pepsi's China beverage unit.

China's digital generation is at home in the virtual world, making friends, sharing information and playing through different activities. "The opportunity for marketers is to motivate consumers to share our brand news,"Mr. Pan said.

Guo Guo and Schell, meanwhile, are now close friends and, rumor has it, a real-life couple. And Mr. Li's next project? The 28-year-old is using his prize money to get married.
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