Chinese brands are taking the worldwide stage by featuring in Hollywood blockbusters.
Product placement is nothing new. But it has somehow taken an interesting turn in China recently. At this year’s Spikes Asia Fesitval, JWT Shanghai’s Managing Director, Eric Lee showcased the agency’s collaborations with Filmworks China.
There are many things we can learn from their model, but the best of it, at least for a while, is that this seems to be an “exclusive” model for them. Yes, China has money and Hollywood needs it. But if you don’t have the right contacts to connect the two, nothing can happen.
This is where entertainment industry veteran, Sirena Liu, fills the void. Liu runs Beijing-based company, Filmworks China Entertainment Marketing and has great Hollywood contacts in her reins. She previously handled publicity and marketing for Columbia Pictures co-productions in China and and her impressive CV contains an MBA and producer roles for Chinese titles like The Red Cliff. The result is Chinese product placements in Hollywood blockbusters such as Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, Kung Fu Panda 2, Madagascar 3, Snow White and the Huntsman and Ice Age 4.
JWT was quick to set up JWT Entertainment and work with Liu. Just the week before Spikes Asia, they set up “Hollywood in China”. This summit to connect studios with Chinese brands gathered six major studios and 100 advertisers together in Shanghai to discuss the marketing opportunities linked to future Hollywood blockbusters.
What can ad agencies actually achieve here? Eric Lee explained at Spikes Asia that it is not just about planting your brands into a movie. For example, putting a brand name on the side of a truck that is passing by on the highway for two seconds is one thing.
But when the actor Ken Jeong (who plays Jerry Wang in Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon) actually said “May I finish my Shuhua milk”, it pleasantly surprised many Chinese audiences as it was the first time any Chinese brand was significantly named in a Hollywood movie.
Don’t forget that China was the film’s highest grossing market after North America. Now type the brand of low lactose milk (made by Yili - one of the largest dairy companies in China) into Google and you're never too far from a Transformers reference.
However, according to Eric, having gone through a lot of discussions to make sure Ken Jeong would be holding the popular Chinese milk carton in the elevator scene, it is Ken Jeong himself who improvised the line mentioned “Shuhua Milk” as he read Chinese and understood the brand name. Director, Michael Bay, left it there because he thought it was funny.
That was an extra gift adding to the success of the advertiser, but agencies could do well to learn from this and perhaps minimise the ‘accidental’ part of the process, creating more meaningful and realistic brand integration into films.
Image: Shia Labeouf wears t-shirt from MTEE in Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon. Filmworks helped four Chinese brands (Yili, Meters/bonwe, TCL and Lenovo) place their products in the film.
Video: Yili's Shuhua Milk product placemenet in Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon.