Content marketing in China is anything but elementary, dear marketers

A panel discussion at the Tencent Mind Conference Tuesday in Shanghai looked at hard truths about investing in hot shows.

Content marketing in China is anything but elementary, dear marketers

Just when almost all brands in China are jostling for space in the top TV shows and movies, Stephen Li, APAC CEO of OMD, laid out a case against costly but haphazard investment in content. 

Speaking during a panel discussion during the Tencent Mind Conference in Shanghai on Tuesday, Li said brands have been blindly following the hot shows, while agencies are not doing their jobs in giving the best advice either. 

"What we do is look at something and think, that's a good property, maybe I could start this with a client," he said. "But you know what? The conversation is bullshit before it started. I try to sell you something because it has worked somewhere, and maybe that makes it look good on you?"

Rather, the conversation should be more organic, he said. The real question is what the client gets out of it, and how to maximise that. "Until we have clearly defined how we hope to leverage that property, then whatever value it [the content] has is in many ways irrelevant," said Li.

In the context of China, the term "IP" is often used to refer to content that has the potential to draw traffic on multiple platforms. Brand insertion is often a popular approach for dramas like Three Lives Three Worlds. And mainstream foreign shows are also in the game, with brands such as Oral B borrowing Sherlock Holmes and John Watson to sell their products.

Since there is often more than one brand investing in any single hot show, Li said the only way for brands to stand out is by being the first.

"But genuinely, the conversation starts with the advertiser," he said, before advising a hypothetical client that, "this content may be hot, but it is not for you. Just because it is the popular thing out there, it may not be the right vehicle for everyone." 

Stephen Li
Meanwhile, Maxwell Xu, head of media for North Asia at Unilever, said consumers are in different states of minds when they are consuming content versus purchasing: 'play, play, play' versus 'buy, buy, buy'.
"The biggest challenge for brands is that after completing the first wave [of content marketing], how will it be translated to the second wave [buying]," he said. "The first wave needs a long period of accumulation and a rather strong force in order to have an effect on consumers' purchasing behaviour."
Christine Xu, VP of marketing for McDonald's China, pointed out that cost is often the barrier to entry in content marketing. "From my perspective, less is more, and we can go bigger and bolder," she said. "In order to stretch the dollar, we often target a very narrow segment of audience when spending our budget on content."


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