Wednesday, June 17, 2009

P&G Using Online Soap To Market Products In China

Kate Zhao of Dow Jones Newswires published a story earlier today about a successful new P&G soap venture in China.

Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) has once again turned to the soap opera genre to market its products, only this time the soap is online and the characters are in China.

Max Factor, a beauty brand that P&G is discontinuing in the U.S., is playing a central role in the firm's new marketing efforts in China. An online soap opera made by P&G's beauty and grooming group and Beijing Hachette Advertising Co. tells the story of two young, energetic professional women, Max Factor's target consumers in the country. And, of course, the show's characters use only P&G beauty products.

Foreign companies are increasingly using the Internet to reach their Chinese consumers. Marketing tools such as corporate blogs and sponsorship on social Web sites have been widely adopted by manufacturers of consumer products and electronics. Sony Pictures Television, a unit of Sony Corp. (SNE), and Estee Lauder Cos.'s (EL) Clinique, for example, have worked together to broadcast an online show SOFIA'S DIARY to plug Sony Vaio laptops and Clinique cosmetics.

By tapping the Internet, P&G hopes to boost sales of Max Factor and other beauty brands like Olay and Pantene in China.

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P&G wouldn't give numbers on its sales or advertising expenses in China since the debut of its online shop at, a unit of Ltd. (1688.HK) , saying the program and the online shop are still in trial phases.

"New media means new lifestyle, so you are going to see more and more trials in the future," said Feng Yan, an associate professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. "Big advertisers [are beginning to] take advantage of [new media] to reach their consumers."

P&G has woven product placements for Max Factor into the online show and included interactive aspects and commercials for its other major brands, including Pantene, Vidal Sassoon, and Head & Shoulders. In addition to its online efforts, P&G has opened high-end Max Factor counters at department stores in major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai.

The general soap opera format isn't new to P&G, which for years has used the genre to reach women consumers in the U.S. However, using the Internet gives the company the ability to allow its audience to interact and participate in the program's development.

The 12-episode show is centered around the character of Xiang An, an editor at a fashion magazine, who uses Olay skin care products every day, and her best friend - Coco Bai, a makeup artist working at the same place. Viewers can argue with each other through an online forum about Bai and An's opinions on love and life, send text messages to guess the next episode's content to win free gifts, or directly buy products online on

Before the show's debut May 8, P&G primarily used TV commercials to target Chinese consumers, and was the top bidder at the China Central Television prime time slot auction from 2005 to 2007, according to Access Asia, an independent market research company. Access Asia said P&G remained among the top bidders in 2009, spending $75.3 million at this year's auction, up 6% from 2008.

Young white-collar Chinese professionals between the ages of 25 to 35 - P&G's target audience - typically spend only about an hour and a half each day watching TV. However, the same group typically spends four hours online every day and spent around $667 million for online shopping in the first quarter of 2009, according to iResearch Consulting Group.

The new show seems to have had some success. Between May 8 and June 5, each episode attracted an average of one million viewers, according to Hachette Advertising, adding that viewers sent in more than 50,000 text messages in less than three weeks and that the show was the target of 32 million searches from May 8 to May 31 on (BIDU), China's No. 1 search engine.

Hachette is currently working on the second season, which will change the show into a more open-ended model, allowing audiences to change the plots of each episode, said Mier Ai, managing director at Hachette Advertising.

Milton Kotler, president of Kotler Marketing Group Inc., a marketing consultancy based in southern China's Shenzhen, says the continued success of the new show will depend "on how creative they are," adding that embedded commercials, if overused, could backfire and annoy the audience.

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  1. Hmmm...interesting. Now, if only P&G would bring GL to the web...

  2. It may be a scaled down version, but since this is a company with MANY products, and is the #1 advertiser on television, you would think if anyone could figure out a profitable model to advertise those products, it would be them.

  3. Definitely, Roger and the fact that it sounds very interactive is a big plus. Just speaking from the main POV of an Otalia fan, there is a huge bonus for P&G with advertising to an international market as well as imput.

  4. They already have this amazing in-built international audience for GL, something which most of the other US soaps don't have.
    Not even B&B is this strong in some countries. Seems like it would be a really smart business move if they could pull it off.

  5. Well, what's the hold up with GL then?