Staff Writer
Jun 17, 2019

iQIYI’s secret recipe of connecting with China’s youths

Leon Chen talks marketing to China Gen Z and millennials, and iQIYI’s knack for turning the traditional into the new.

Leon Chen, SVP at iQIYI
Leon Chen, SVP at iQIYI

iQIYI knows a thing or two about what China’s young consumers want. After all, the innovative market-leading online entertainment service has repeatedly churned out crowd-pleasing programmes in China.

iQIYI has always been focused on China’s young audiences, according to Leon Chen, the company's SVP. And it is this philosophy that has guided Chen in his marketing efforts for iQIYI’s varied programmes.

In March, iQIYI’s marketing team won Digital Communications Team of the Year at Campaign Asia’s Digital 360 festival for the second year in a row.

When asked what his recipe for success is, Chen says, “I think there are three major points. First, we’re pushing out creative content. Second, we adapt our marketing strategy to evolving tastes. And third, our content has always reflected iQIYI’s DNA, which is to create positive energy and youthful vibes.”  

All three points were at the front of Chen’s mind when he drew up the marketing strategy for The Legend of White Snake.

A drama series that tells the love story of Xu Xian and Bai Suzhen, a white snake that transforms into a woman, The Legend of White Snake based on the eponymous Chinese folk legend set in West Lake during the Southern Song Dynasty.

iQIYI's marketing strategy for The Legend of White Snake includes ‘dressing up’ the Hangzhou train station – the station closest to West Lake
“We’re aware that we needed to attract a younger crowd, so we really went all-out to create an immersive environment,” says Chen

“We’re aware that we needed to attract a younger crowd, so we really went all-out to create an immersive environment,” says Chen.

Chen’s strategy comprised a series of online and offline marketing activities targeting young audiences. These include ‘dressing up’ the Hangzhou train station – the station closest to West Lake – in scenes alluding to the television series, and having models dressed up as Bai Suzhen, the series’ title character, in the outdoor square next to the Lake. “Visitors could immediately feel that they’d enter into the world of The Legend of White Snake upon arrival”. iQIYI’s marketing team also made use of an important plot point to create an escape room, where participants dress up as characters from the TV series to battle an evil force.

A model dressed up as Bai Suzhen, the series’ title character, in the Hangzhou train station 

Meanwhile, iQIYI app users who tuned into The Legend of White Snake page found their screens filling up with tiny icons of oil paper umbrellas, an important prop in the story.

Does Chen respond to what consumers want, or does he create needs as well?

He takes a moment to consider. “We do both. We’re always responding to needs and desires, but sometimes, people have this desire, and they aren’t aware of that, or they don’t know how to articulate it. If you ask a young person on the street ‘what do u like?”, he or she might not know how to answer you. But since we have all these data, and the tools to analyse them, we could gain insight into where their true desires lie.”

Data is also at the heart of iQIYI’s marketing efforts. After all, in a country of 1.4 billion people, where consumers in Shanghai expect something very different from those in Guilin, it’s essential that the company personalise marketing messages for each market.

“We found out that consumers in the first and second tier cities are after spiritual and emotional fulfilment, while those in third to fifth tier cities are more concerned about tangible benefits,” Chen says.  The results of the study were applied in a campaign to promote iQIYI’s VIP membership services. While the ad targeting first and second tier cities focused on the emotional benefits of becoming a VIP member, while the one targeting third to fifth tier cities discussed the functional benefits that consumers would get if they signed up as a VIP member.

Yet, the ads were also united in their goal to brand iQIYI’s as the content go-to for young consumers—reflected perhaps, in the platform’s choice of youthful ambassadors: Lay Chang, Kris Wu, Zhao Liying and William Chan.

As a tech-driven company, iQIYI fully leverages technology in its marketing efforts.

Chen notes the impact of AI on the proliferation of UGC that it is also a good way to use UGC to help to do marketing. Chen says. “There is an AI tool let’s call it ‘only him’, which allows viewers to only watch scenes with their favourite character in it. And more advanced technologies are being developed as well. Looking to the future, who knows—with the development of AI technology, viewers might be inspired by the scenes in the show or drama series to create their own UGC, and the content will be consumed by the maximum amount of eyeballs, which helps us spread our core market messages.”

If its robust subscribers’ base– 87.4 million – is anything to go by, it is that iQIYI has found a way into the hearts of the country’s young consumers-and has set a high benchmark for entertainment companies looking to enter the Chinese market.

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