Branding of "Happy Camp"

Source:Agencies Published: 2012-7-25 21:10:03

The cast of Happy Camp Photo:Courtesy of Li Xue
The cast of Happy Camp Photo:Courtesy of Li Xue

If you ask what the most popular variety show in China is currently, numbers will likely indicate Happy Camp. With a market share of 3.07 percent, Happy Camp ranked third in all variety shows in 2011, according to CSM Media Research, a joint venture dedicated to TV and radio research.

Launched by Hunan TV Station in July 1997, Happy Camp recently celebrated its 15th anniversary.

Over the last 15 years, Happy Camp turned itself from a local program to a nationwide program, managing to keep the production cost around 100,000 yuan ($15,630) over the years while earning 700 million yuan per episode. Many are now asking: What's the secret behind its success?

Rollercoaster ride

Long Mei, producer and former director of Happy Camp, remembers the start of this show.

"The first guest was Taiwan actor Orr Sau Leung, the first man to fly over the Great Wall on motorcycle. Everyone was nervous and had no idea how it would turn out."

But things went better than predicted. After a few episodes, Happy Camp was well-received by audiences, filling the prime time slots on other TV networks. It was quickly followed by a number of similar shows. 

Some criticized Happy Camp, labeling it a copycat of variety shows in Taiwan, while others predicted the success would quickly burn out.

"We spent a year preparing…. We learned from successful shows in China and abroad. But we never copied them. We imported good ideas and added in local elements," Long told Oriental Morning Post.

"It is natural to have difficulties in the beginning, because people do not understand you. [There needs to be time] to communicate, to let people understand what kind of program it is."

From the end of 2004 to 2005, Happy Camp faced a crisis after hostess Li Xiang left.

Li had hosted Happy Camp since the start and was one of the most important figures. It's no exaggeration to say that she popularized the show while also gaining personal fame. Happy Camp was forced to prepare for a major change.

 "We did pre-plan, but because we were not able to find the right direction quickly, it was painful," Long said.

The new format found two male hosts, He Jiong and Li Weijia, who later both gained fame through Happy Camp. But audiences did not take to the new style initially.

Long then invited Xie Na, known for her humorous antics, to be a hostess. The crew was divided into two groups - one to run the program, and one to create a new format.

Producers decided to focus on audience interaction, giving audiences a platform to participate. Even when the show featured big stars like Jay Chou, audience members remained the focus.

 "From then on, both guests and audiences were covered, saving the show," Long said.

Happy cast

In its early years, Happy Camp followed the traditional style of having one host and one hostess, which was welcomed by audiences.

In 2003, when Long became the producer, she implemented another special feature of Happy Camp, the concept of a "happy family." This family consisted of a panel of three hosts and two hostesses.

Unlike other variety shows, each person in the five-member cast was individually marketed. Each host was unique, with individual roles and music contracts.

Long in fact, is currently thinking about the "happy family" starring in a movie of their own.

"The change from the traditional hosting group to some degree was ground breaking, and this model was imitated by other channels," said Xu Fan, professor of School of Television & Journalism at Communication University of China.

He said the branding of each host is something other shows can learn from. "This group is like an idol group in the music circle. Without marketing and brand building, the 'happy family' would not be successful," he said.

Secrets of success

Persistence and innovation are what Long cites as the secret to the show's success.

The show always brings in fresh content, related to current hot topics, according to Xu.

"Happy Camp is still modeled after a traditional variety show, but it caters to the latest entertainment topics and brings in popular guests."

 "In recent years, we've asked guests to arrive at Changsha (where the show is based) a day earlier, so we can bond and come up with interesting topics," Long said, adding that this method has proven to be quite effective.

"Producers of Hong Kong variety shows said that they used to apply this principle. But few shows do this now."

Happy Camp often invites stars who are promoting new movies, albums or books. Agents active in cooperating with the show thus cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship.

"Efficient cooperation increases ratings," Long commented.

Though Happy Camp has various modes of advertising, advertisements are not directly inserted into the show content.

"They clearly separate business promotions from the show's program, a model worth following for other variety shows," said Wei Pengju, a researcher of Cultural and Creative Industries Studies Center at Renmin University.

For the future of Happy Camp, Xu suggests expanding topics to include social affairs, not just entertainment, and to raise the reputation of Hunan TV Station, the show's carrier.

Last, Xu recommends being prepared for any adjustments the show may face, such as a host's sudden departure.

Global Times – Oriental Morning Post

Posted in: Diversions

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