BEIJING: Pernod Ricard, Unilever and Sony are among a growing number of multinational advertisers looking to product placement as a means of promoting their brands in China, be it on television or via the internet.
In April, Pernod Ricard, the world's second largest spirits group, launched an online, interactive film, entitled Style & Experience, to promote its Martell Noblige cognac brand.
Web users can select which choices the lead character, Ken, makes at various stages in the film, which has 14 potential endings, and varies from eight to 18 minutes in length.
Martell Noblige appears at various points throughout the video, which took eight months to develop, and featured an actor playing one role who was chosen via a competition held on sites including YouTube and Facebook.
Before its release, Nurun, the digital agency behind the campaign, also allowed bloggers, journalists and other "influentials" to view the film and provide real-time feedback on its contents.
Figures from Google Analytics show that the webpage created by Pernod Ricard to host Style & Experience has received 1.2 million "hits" since its launch.
A quarter of these visitors stayed on the site for over 25 minutes, and 40% watched the movie more than once, while Nurun estimates the online "buzz" about the brand has tripled since the film went live.
Style & Experience was aimed at a youthful market, and Nurun's managing director, Yann Lombard-Platet, argued "the way to engage this audience is to provide entertainment and content."
He added that a "movie of 15 minutes allows an audience to sit and think what it is they are doing, rather than passively looking. In a two-minute miniseries, there's hardly any time."
Unilever has also produced a "Hollywood-style" seven-minute viral "minifilm" for its Lux shampoo brand, which featured the actress Catherine Zeta Jones, and has run in China and other Asian markets instead of traditional TV ads.
The FMCG giant similarly adapted the US comedy series Ugly Betty for use in China, and the renamed Ugly Wudi, which has run for two series so far, has prominently featured product placement for brands including Dove and Lipton.
Sony and Estée Lauder have also employed a web-based series called Sufei's Diary – based on Sofia's Diary, which was devised in Portugal and has since run in several other countries – for similar purposes.
The show, which is broadcast in three-minute daily segments, has promoted Sony's brands and Estée Lauder's Clinique cosmetics range.
Chris Reitermann, president of OgilvyOne China, argued that "People in China have fewer options for entertainment.
"They think, 'So long as you give me something interesting, I don't mind if your brand somehow shows up,' which is something that viewers in the U.S. or Europe would be less receptive to."
Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by WARC staff