Cover Story

On-screen moves give Chinese brands an edge

Updated: 2011-03-11 10:36

By Hu Haiyan and Zhong Nan (China Daily European Weekly)

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On-screen moves give Chinese brands an edge
Chinese sportswear maker ANTA has signed on NBA star Kevin Garnett as its brand ambassador. He Zi / For China Daily

The human and mechanized characters of the film, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, are in full flight in a dramatic and action-filled scene.

As they move swiftly on a highway, a huge billboard advertising products of the Metersbonwe Group, a Chinese fashion and accessories brand, can be clearly seen. And the billboard reappears a few more times throughout the film.

This type of product placement in films, while not new in the United States, is being increasingly used by Chinese companies to promote their products internationally.

However, Chinese companies still have to work hard to persuade US studios that they (the Chinese companies) are viable and strong enough to be featured.

Zhou Long, the chief of Metersbonwe, says he and his colleagues had long and hard negotiations with the Transformers' producers, Paramount Pictures, before the deal was struck.

Another promotional method is to provide most of the clothes used in a film. For example, another Chinese clothing brand, Semir, supplied all the clothes worn by the two leading stars in Ironman 2 - a fact made clear by the film's costume designer Mary Zophres.

As well, the brand name was visible in a short animated film shown before the premier of the film.

Xing Fang, vice-president of Ruigejiacheng, a Beijing advertisement agency, says negotiations between Semir and Paramount Pictures took seven months.

Indeed, a survey conducted by CHR, a film statistics analysis company in Shanghai, on the "most wanted brands embedded in movies", Metersbonwe ranked second in 2009 and Semir ranked second last year.

Among those surveyed, more than 5 percent say they would buy Metersbonwe products because of the movie, and 4 percent opted for Semir.

Another promotional route would be for sportswear companies to appoint top US basketball players as their spokesman.

ANTA Sports Products Ltd, one of China's largest sportswear producers, has signed on the NBA icon Kevin Garnett as its brand ambassador in a move to go global.

Zheng Jie, its executive director and vice-president, says that signing top-tiered NBA stars as spokespersons is "in accordance with ANTA's development and its aim to enhance our brand image".

"Garnett's becoming our mouthpiece has actually enhanced our brand's influence."

Zheng says the results of the first three trade shows in 2011 prove the effectiveness of this measure. "Our customers and distributors have shown strong interest in KG series products, which are specially designed for Kevin Garnett," he says.

"Subsequent to the signing of Garnett, the order value had robust growth, showing a year-on-year increase of 23 percent, 21 percent and 20 percent respectively at the three trade shows."

Peak Sport Products Co Ltd has also appointed NBA players as its spokespeople, "which is very helpful for us to establish our brand there", Cai Jiahao, the company's secretary, says.

There are risks involved, however, especially for product placement in films, including the fact that the movie involved may not even make it to Chinese cinema screens for various reasons.

But Wang Gao, professor of marketing at China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, says that despite the risks, Hollywood's relatively mature procedures for product placement works.

"Cooperation with Hollywood seems even more cost-effective if based on the advertisement cost per thousand views, because the box offices of Hollywood blockbusters are generally good, and the freshness for the embedment of Chinese brands into Hollywood movies of high quality further guarantees good results," Wang says.

Wang Xiuying, a professor of marketing at the College of Business Administration at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, says the success of embedded marketing also relies on whether the brands and the movie promote the same values.

However, Wang says, sportswear companies that sign on NBA stars face far less risks since sports-loving Chinese consumers often know the NBA players.

"And the relationship between stars and brands are quite mutual as they both need each other to make money from consumers," Wang says.

"Consumers are eager for products used by celebrities on TV or other media. It is a practical way to internationalize Chinese brands by using foreign celebrities, because is easy to set up a trustworthy brand image and lure more potential buyers."

Analysts say the companies' move to boost their image in the US shows their rising brand-building awareness.

"Chinese brands have always been labeled as 'cheap and obscure quality', and suffer from weaker popularity compared with brands such as Nike," says He Zhenyu, a senior analyst with Accenture in Beijing.

"But the Chinese market is consolidating quickly and has already nurtured some well-known brands in recent years.

"By combining their image with US factors, they can prove their competitiveness to domestic consumers and set up high-end brand images, which can win even more popularity among Chinese consumers."


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