Getting noticed

By Tu Lei Source:Global Times Published: 2013-5-14 20:13:02

An Iron Man poster Photo: CFP
An Iron Man poster Photo: CFP  

Wang Yifei has mixed feelings about a product placement he organized in the hot new blockbuster Iron Man 3.

As the head of Herun Media, a company that serves as a bridge between Hollywood and Chinese companies, Wang arranged for machinery manufacturer Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co to be featured in the film.

"I am happy to see the brand get known by more people with the help of placement in the film, but the method is not perfect," Wang told the Global Times Monday.

Product placement involves companies paying for their products to be seen or mentioned briefly in a film.

In the climax of the film, the final fight scene is set in a port, where a large-scale crane made by Zoomlion serves as the backdrop. The film even includes a line asking if the crane is ready or not.

On its opening day in the Chinese mainland, Iron Man 3 took in 113 million yuan ($18.4 million) at the box office. In the first week the income reached 397 million yuan.

Cultural differences

Wang has helped many companies to be featured in Hollywood films such as The Avengers and The Hunger Games. He felt there would be a good connection between the Zoomlion brand and Iron Man 3, as they both feature advanced technology.

However, "placing a brand in a Hollywood film successfully is very hard," Wang told the Global Times.

"At the initial stage, our negotiations with the producers were quite smooth, but as things went on, more conflicts emerged," Wang said.

Wang said the conflicts were mainly due to miscommunications and cultural differences, as well as differences of opinion over presentation of the products.

According to Wang, the scene was originally planned to involve an actual Zoomlion crane, but in the end it was computer generated instead, and the amount of time featuring the crane in the film was cut quite a lot compared with the original scene that Wang was shown.

Wang has a team in the US, and he also flew there several times. It took the company more than half a year to finish the whole project.

A scene with Chinese actor Wang Xueqi as Doctor Wu drinking Yili milk.
A scene with Chinese actor Wang Xueqi as Doctor Wu drinking Yili milk.


People wear Iron Man outfits at a Zoomlion event.
People wear Iron Man outfits at a Zoomlion event.

Customer satisfied

Wang might not be fully satisfied with the product placement in the film, but Zoomlion seems to be much more pleased.

In an e-mail sent to the Global Times Monday, Zoomlion said the involvement in Iron Man 3 shows the company's internationalization ambitions. It is also "valuable" in helping to explore overseas markets, the company said.

Both the film and the lead actor, Robert Downey Jr, have tremendous appeal for many global fans, and the themes of the film, such as innovation, R&D and responsibility in applying them are also part of Zoomlion's core values, the e-mail said.

According to Zoomlion, as well as the placement, the company also used images from the film in other marketing activities, including an advertisement at the International Trade Fair for Construction Machinery in April this year.

Neither the company nor Herun were willing to provide details of the fees involved in the product placement, but Wang Yi, director of marketing at Herun, told the Global Times that the prices depend on brand power, the amount of time the product is featured in the film, and the actors involved.

"The higher the expected box office income, the higher the price of the product placement," Wang said.

According to financial reports from milk producer Yili, which also had product placements in Transformers 3 and Iron Man 3 , their total marketing fees in 2011 and 2012 reached 3.6 billion yuan and 3.7 billion yuan respectively.

More companies to join in

Despite the high prices involved, more Chinese brands are eager to be involved in Hollywood movies.

Iron Man 3 also features domestic brands TCL and Yili Group. 

In the film, a 110-inch TCL 3D LCD TV, which home appliance firm TCL Group claims to be the world's largest TV, is displayed at Iron Man's home.

At the end of the film, Doctor Wu, played by Chinese movie star Wang Xueqi, is seen drinking a dairy product made by Yili Group.

There is also a special version of the film for the Chinese mainland with four added minutes, featuring Wang Xueqi and Chinese actress Fan Bingbing performing an operation on the lead character.

Wu Bing, CEO of DMG Entertainment, a co-distributor of the film in the Chinese mainland, was quoted by Sichuan-based Tianfu Morning Paper as saying that Chinese involvement in the film represents a step forward for Chinese private companies in marching into Hollywood.

"This step is like a seed, and it will lead to further growth," Wu said.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, China's total box-office takings reached $2.7 billion in 2012, a rise of 36 percent from the previous year.

In a report by CNN on May 3, Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOffice­, described Chinese involvement in the film as "borderline propaganda." But at the same time, he said, it gave the film access to the Chinese market that other Hollywood films lack.

However, the audience has a different attitude toward product placement in the movies.

Xia Jinbao, a Beijing engineer who watched the film last week, told the Global Times that some placements such as that of Yili milk slightly spoil the reputation of the film, adding that the film should be "clean and decent."

Zhang Shuting, a professor at the Communication University of China, said Chinese product placements in some Hollywood films are not "smooth" and do not compare well with the placement of brands such as cars from other countries and regions.

"We are just at the beginning, and the audience should be patient with us. But we should get more professional, in terms of picking the scripts and content," said Wang from Herun Media.

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