Absolutely Lala

New film pushes boundaries on product placement

Absolutely Lala

Material girl: Xu Jinglei

Die Another Day, the 20th instalment in the James Bond franchise, may not have been the most memorable. It did, however, earn a place in the record books as one of the biggest promo bandwagons ever. The film boasts as many as 20 product placements. So much so that the BBC suggested that it change its name to Buy Another Day.

In China, the new movie Go Lala Go! is likewise setting a new standard for product placement. The film – adapted from a 2007 bestselling novel that follows the story of character Du Lala as she makes her way up from office rookie to manager (for more see WiC29) – pitches about 20 brands, everything from cars to soft drinks. The Shenzhen Daily was dismissive, calling the film “nothing but a fashion show featuring heavy product placements.”

When asked about all the advertising implants in the film, director Xu Jinglei (who also plays Lala) is unrepentant. The timing and arrangement of commercials was proper, she says, and would not cause any problems for the viewer. Rather more strongly she claims she “would have felt disgraced” if there had been no product placement.

For the movie’s detractors, the product placement is too heavy-handed. In one scene, Lala goes to a car dealer and drives a Mazda MX-5 Miata off the lot. In another, she is seen checking her email on her mobile phone, with the logo of the phonemaker displayed prominently on the screen. Throughout the entire movie, Lipton tea (see WiC33) is featured conspicuously on her desk as well as in the office conference room, says Global Entrepreneur.

Product placement is certainly not new to China. Feng Xiaogang’s blockbuster film If You Are The One showcased a hefty number of brands. In one scene, as the lead couple go on their first date, the camera lingers fondly for several seconds on a China Merchants credit card on the dinner table (see WiC10).

Branded entertainment deals have also become more aggressive in Chinese television. In WiC5, we reported that Unilever’s Dove brand teamed up with Hunan Television to produce TV show Ugly Wudi, the Chinese version of the American hit show Ugly Betty. The deal gave Unilever the right to exclusive ads and product placements during the show, as well as a script built around the company’s ad campaign.

So successful is Ugly Wudi that it now has three seasons under its belt – and with more sponsors than ever. In addition to Unilever, Bausch & Lomb, Perfetti van Melle and Chinese toothpaste Zhonghua have also joined the roster. Critics worry that Ugly Wudi has become a branding circus.

“Some may wonder how much product placement consumers can accept in a show,” says Karl Cluck of Mindshare, the agency behind the programme’s development.

A lack of subtlety could certainly backfire. Take this year’s China Central Television Spring Festival Gala. Viewers complained loudly that the traditional gala was being turned into one big advertising event.

Netizens called comedian Zhao Benshan the “King of Commercial”, after the actor directly recited advertising lines in his performance. Similarly, China’s most famous magician Lu Chen made a plug for Huiyuan juice by taking a sip of the drink (before making it disappear – perhaps not what the marketing team really wanted).

But that is about to change. Xinmin Evening News reported in March that Beijing will be scrutinising product placement rules, says Tian Jin, vice head of the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television.

Meanwhile, Go Lala Go! doesn’t seem to be too effected by the negative press. The movie, which opened in April, has recorded decent opening revenues, and the producers have announced that they are going to start filming the sequel soon. That probably means viewers will soon be seeing even more elaborately-constructed advertising.

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