American companies place products in films and television shows all the time – the hero eats a Big Mac on screen or uses a Macintosh computer because McDonald’s or Apple paid for it. Chinese brands are also getting into the act, placing their products in American movies and television programs that Chinese viewers watch.
CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” is an example. The show consistently attracts high ratings among American viewers. It is also one of the most popular American TV shows in China.
Starting in March, Chinese dairy giant Inner Mongolia Yili began placing the company’s Shuhua milk in the show. Below, a Shuhua milk carton appears in a scene set in the apartment of Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter, the sitcom’s main characters. Yili and “The Big Bang Theory” have a contract that lasts through August.
Of course, companies can’t waltz onto set and simply pay for product placement. Sina, a Chinese news site, notes that American production companies only accept products that fit into the shows’ story lines. Shuhua milk appeared on “The Big Bang Theory” because the product is lactose-free, so lactose-intolerant Leonard can drink it, for example.
Chinese companies usually advertise their products during concerts or Chinese television series featuring pop singers. But six years ago, the Shanghai Metersbonwe Fashion and Accessories Company was the first Chinese company to make the leap by inserting ads and products into the “Transformers” series.
The fashion company’s logo appeared on a billboard and a van during “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen” in 2009. Two years later, in “Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon,” actor Shia LaBeouf wore a Metersbonwe T-shirt in the film.
“Unlike our other marketing strategies, that brand placement in a Hollywood movie had a greater impact on young people nationwide,” Wei Xie, Metersbonwe’s brand manager, told China Daily. Placing brands into American films and movies involves “small investment, big turnover,” he says.
Big turnover is right. Five days after releasing “Transformers 3,” Metersbonwe sold more than one million T-shirts.
But not every Chinese brand is as lucky as Metersbonwe in extending their markets to the U.S. Sometimes Chinese companies decline to put their products onscreen if they feel American directors won’t cast them in the best light, according to Southern Weekly, a newspaper based in Guangzhou.