Cultural Commerce on “The Summer Palace”

Plus: Monthly TV and streaming figures, gaokao encouragement, and museums on Douyin.

On July 3, Beijing Satellite TV launched the hotly anticipated cultural reality series “The Summer Palace” (我在颐和园等你), which revolves around a group of celebrities experiencing China’s heritage as exemplified by the Qing dynasty imperial garden complex, which spans more than one square mile northwest of Beijing.

Created in partnership with iQiyi and production house Chuntian, the series is presented in a lighthearted travel vlog format that highlights traditional art and crafts, with an underlying goal of promoting national (aka guochao) brands and cultural products (wenchuang)

The combination of “celebrities + craftsmanship + commerce” works to engage audiences with content that is entertaining and educational that can also inspire purchases of goods seen on the program via Taobao, the show’s e-commerce partner. These include trendy items designed to appeal to young consumers, such as headphones shaped like pearl ornaments on traditional clothing and folding fans in the style of the Han Dynasty. Clothing, such as t-shirts with traditional designs, has also been highlighted via the show’s Weibo account, which has 55,000 followers to date.  

Prior to its premiere, “The Summer Palace” worked with to host a livestream event that was part of a broader effort by the e-commerce platform in using content to drive sales for its 618 shopping festival. In carefully plotted scenes, the stars of the series — actors Zhang Guoli, Zheng Shuang, and Zheng Yi, plus rapper Wang Ziyi — shared details of the historical site’s beauty and features while promoting new products that fit the Summer Palace aesthetic, such as the traditional sticky rice dumplings known as zongzi, beverages, and books.  

This type of partnership of e-commerce livestreaming and reality TV offers significant benefits for both sides: the livestreaming platforms have a steady demand for content innovation to help stand out from the crowd, while producers of reality shows seek new ways to create additional value for brand sponsors by offering marketing opportunities outside of the program. 

Official sponsors of the show include the Chinese liquor brand Zhuye Qingjiu (竹叶清酒) as the title sponsor and computer brand Lenovo, which had a notable collaboration with the Palace Museum last year. Zhuye Qingjiu products are frequently placed in scenes, with their classically designed ceramic bottles echoing lifestyles of the past while encouraging consumption among contemporary consumers. 

“The Summer Palace” builds on the success of Beijing Satellite TV’s 2018 series, “The New Forbidden City” (上新了故宫), which also connected the cultural heritage of imperial China with the development of IP products, such as a set of “Forbidden City pajamas” designed in collaboration with students from the Central Academy of Fine Arts that combined traditional design elements with modern comfort and went viral on Weibo, ultimately selling 97,000 pairs and grossing RMB 40 million ($5.7 million). 

- by Ginger Ooi, CCI Team

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Mentioned in today’s newsletter: Baihe, Douyin, iQiyi,, Lenovo, Louis Vuitton, M&G Stationery, Oppo, Oreo, SoYoung, Taobao, Thanmelin, Tubatu, Vipshop, Vivo, Weibo, Zhuye Qingjiu.

Brand Trends on TV and Video Streaming

The monthly reports on brand sponsorship on Chinese TV and video streaming platforms are out. On the reality show front, June was a fairly slow month for new series, with only 12 premieres compared to 32 in May. However, all of the new series secured brand sponsors, which is something that hasn’t been seen in a while. 

  • Video streaming platforms continue to pave the way for unscripted programming, with 8 of the 12 new series appearing online — and five on Mango TV, which brought the most widely viewed show of the new crop, the “30 over 30” female idol competition “Sisters Who Make Waves” (乘风破浪的姐姐). That show led the pack in drawing brand interest with 16 sponsors, including Vipshop, Oreo, Vivo, and C-beauty brand Thanmelin as the title sponsor. It was followed by the fourth season of Mango TV’s “Viva La Romance” (妻子的浪漫旅行) and its nine sponsors. Both of those shows cater to Mango TV’s core audience of young, urban, female viewers. Read more in Chinese from Starlink.

  • The 12 online reality shows had a cumulative 49 brand sponsorships, with fast-moving consumer goods the leading brand category, while mobile phone makers such as Vivo and Oppo retreated from title sponsorships in the latest crop of shows. Read more in Chinese from Media 360

  • Dramas continue to struggle to draw brand participation. Of the 33 new dramas that premiered on TV and video streaming platforms, only eight secured sponsorship, a slight improvement over May’s figure. The comic romance “Don’t Think Twice, Love’s All Right” (爱我就别想太多) drew the most with 11, including a bevy of consumer-oriented tech brands such as the dating service Baihe, the cosmetic surgery app SoYoung, and Tubatu, an online home improvement platform, all of which are integrated into the storylines of the upscale drama in ways that illustrate their practical applications. Read more in Chinese from Starlink

  • For broader insights on the first half of 2020, Ent Data has recently reported on trends in the TV drama market and brand sponsorship of unscripted programming. 

    • The number of reality shows airing across platforms has been declining over the past few years, from a peak of 303 in the first half of 2018 to 203 in the same period this year. 

    • Online reality shows accounted for 42% of the total, but brand money still gravitates towards network programming — 87% of the 117 TV series had brand sponsors, compared with 62% of the 86 online shows. 

    • The most popular categories of unscripted programs for brands are music (28%), sports (26%), and lifestyle (19%). The hugely popular idol competition format, in which audiences vote to choose members of a new musical group, has had three major hits this year — iQiyi’s “Youth With You” (青春有你), Tencent Video’s “Chuang 2020” (创造营2020), and Mango TV’s “Sisters Who Make Waves” (乘风破浪的姐姐) — that had a combined nearly 50 brand sponsors. Gala entertainment, such as the Lunar New Year’s shows and the recent televised extravaganzas for the 618 Shopping Festival, is another major format for brands.  

Can Bytedance’s Cultural Focus Push Museums Onto TikTok?

While relatively few international museums have made their way onto Bytedance’s short-video app TikTok (and those that do tend to take a lighthearted approach), in China, many cultural institutions are firmly established on Douyin, its domestic counterpart.

  • Chinese institutions on Douyin range from gargantuan state museums to trendy independent contemporary art institutions, and they likewise offer a broader array of content, from playful cat animations and dancing Tang dynasty figurines to more in-depth educational programming. 

  • Amid increasing competition in the short video and livestreaming markets, Bytedance has been pushing to improve the quality of the content on its platform and increasing the presence of museums is part of that. The platform gives participating art institutions permission to post longer videos and directs traffics towards their accounts to help grow audiences swiftly.

  • Two recent initiatives on Douyin highlight these efforts. On International Museum Day, May 18, 20 museums held hour-long live streams on the platform. That followed a February campaign in which nine of China’s most prestigious museums used livestreaming to entertain audiences sequestered at home due to the coronavirus outbreak

Read the full story on Jing Travel

Brand Film Pick: Creating Emotional Resonance on the “Battlefield” of China’s College Entrance Exam

China’s college entrance exam, known as the gaokao, is a life-defining experience for the nation’s youth. Years of study culminate in a two-day test that determines what school, if any, is an option. This year has been uniquely trying: the coronavirus outbreak closed schools and forced students online, and the critical exam was delayed by one month, with strict health and safety precautions in place for test-takers.  

To mark the occasion, many brands launched marketing campaigns that seek to forge emotional connections with China’s young consumers by honoring their hard work and offering encouragement and good luck. Among them was M&G Stationery, which featured the grueling, years-long journey of the gaokao as the subject of its brand film “It’s an Honor to Accompany You in Battle” (很荣幸, 能陪你一同战斗).

The film recreates scenes that would resonate with anyone who has prepared to sit for the exam, opening with a scene of a student waking up at daybreak to begin to study nonstop until late at night. Later, a time-lapse captures the endless hours that another student spends on practice exams. In each instance, an M&G pen is crucial to the students’ improvement in grades and rising confidence. 

The entire film is told from the perspective of an M&G pen that “sees,” “feels,” and “understands” the sacrifice that each student is making. M&G stresses its relationship to the students, transforming the brand’s role from spectator to companion. In this way, the students' struggles are also M&G’s struggles; and their successes are similarly the brand’s accomplishments, too.

M&G is not the only brand to try to tap into the college entrance exam’s large following. McDonald’s launched a 72-hour-long livestream to celebrate this year’s test-takers, and Oppo promoted its new noise-cancelling headphones as an aid to creating the perfect study environment. However, M&G appeals to its audience in a more profound way by evoking memories and emotions. In addition to being a story about the brand, “It’s an Honor to Accompany You in Battle” is a story about the consumer. M&G thus highlights how brands can strengthen consumer ties recognizing the importance of sentimental value and by sharing in the life experiences of their customers.

- by Ben Guggenheim, CCI Team

News in English

  • Louis Vuitton is reimagining the traditional concept of fashion shows for its Spring 2021 men’s collection with an animated film followed by a touring live runway show that will make its first stop in Shanghai on August 6. WWD

  • Amazon told its employees to delete TikTok from their phones, and quickly backtracked on the demand. New York Times

  • Weibo has introduced new restrictions on web links that will likely require brands to apply to get their websites on the approved list of sources. Sixth Tone

  • Major Chinese cities are competing to become hubs of e-commerce livestreaming by offering incentives for businesses and talent in the industry. Week in China

  • Beauty brands hold a special appeal for Alibaba’s Tmall, which is seeking to incubate 1,000 new brands in the sector this year. Beauty Matter

  • From premium skincare to children’s toothpaste, these are 10 German brands that have been especially successful among Chinese consumers. Azoya

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