BEIJING: Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company, is making heightened use of digital media as it attempts to enhance its position in China.

Simon Clift, the UK-based firm's chief marketing officer, has previously argued that tools such as social networks offer unique opportunities for brands to connect with their target audience.

The "Cup of Greetings" campaign for Lipton, its ready-to-drink tea range, is now using new media to engage consumers in the Asian nation in the run-up to Chinese New Year on February 14.

Jane Huang, Unilever's beverage brand-building director in the country, said "it's like Christmas for Westerners. Families gather together, visit friends and share meals and drinks."

Its latest communication effort allows web users to add photographs of their own face to one of three films – based around mime artists, schoolgirls and rock stars – and share the results with their friends.

This can be done via email, or using a dedicated campaign website hosted by QQ, one of the most popular social networks in China, and which is owned by Tencent.

Recipients are greeted with a "steaming" cup, and when they clear the steam by moving their mouse or blowing into a microphone, they receive a message wishing them good luck, wealth or popularity.

"These are all things people want to hear at Chinese New Year," Huang suggested.

"People are looking forward to good luck at the start of tiger year and only a hot beverage can create steam. We wanted to see how can we link these two together."

Two weeks after this initiative was rolled out in more than 70 cities across China, this microsite had received more than 17 million visitors, with 6.4 million netizens going on to send a message.

AKQA, the digital agency behind "Cup of Greetings", built its online proposition on a Lipton TV spot from DDB Worldwide, which followed a group of friends coming together for New Year and drinking Lipton milk tea.

Johan Vakidis, executive creative director at AKQA, said "the idea is to extend the TV spot online by allowing users to send cups of warm greetings to friends that are revealed in the tea's steam."

"We added another layer to that which is content, not only can you send a cup of greetings to friends, you can also put yourself in a film."

Last year, AKQA and Lipton collaborated on "A Hug a Day", which encouraged web users to send each other "virtual hugs" using Renren, another popular social media service.

"A core insight for this campaign was, culturally, Chinese people do not hug. Lipton wanted to own the opportunity to spread the goodness of hugging, linking it back to their product," Vlakis argued.

Unilever has also previously encouraged Chinese beauty bloggers to take part in blind tests for Pond's, and produced an online film starring Catherine-Zeta Jones, the actress, tied to Lux shampoo.

Data sourced from AdAge; additional content by Warc staff