Chinese audiences watching Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon will recognize more than just the alien robot stars from the previous movies. In the latest blockbuster sequel, which opens on Thursday, household Chinese brand names loom large as part of an unprecedented product placement push.
Sam, the protagonist played by Shia LaBeouf, appears in a T-shirt from Meters/bonwe — a mid-level clothing retailer well known to many young Chinese and one of four Chinese brands to appear in the film.
The Chinese branding campaign is the largest so far in any single Hollywood movie, highlighting Chinese companies’ determination to go global and also use global marketing techniques to raise their domestic profiles.
“The main motivation is to expand their brand recognition in foreign markets, but for others the focus is on the domestic market because the effect with foreign movies is better,” says Didi Zhang at advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather Beijing, which worked with Lenovo on Transformers 3.
The robots have also been given the Made-in-China touch. Brains, a spiky-haired robot with bulging fluorescent blue eyes, transforms itself out of a Lenovo Edge computer, sold by China’s largest PC maker. A TCL flatscreen television also makes a brief appearance.
One Chinese brand even makes it into the script when a scientist tells Sam that he has to finish his Shuhua Low Lactose Milk — a product of Yili , one of China’s largest dairy companies.
“Yili wanted Bumblebee [Sam’s car robot] to drink milk to prop up his energy, but that was rejected by the director,” says Liu Siru at Filmworks, an entertainment marketing company that negotiated the Chinese product placements with Paramount Pictures. Ms Liu adds that it was hard work convincing the film’s producers that a product not available in the U.S. should be placed in the movie.
“In the beginning, the director and the producer had some prejudice against China because they’d never been here,” says Xie Wei at Meters/bonwe, which pioneered Chinese product placement in Hollywood movies with an appearance of its name in Transformers 2. “We invited them to China to come to visit Shanghai and our company, and then their impression of China changed.”
Chinese marketing experts believe that their nation’s products will quickly become more visible in global media. Meters/bonwe is pushing large-scale product placement in Plants & Zombies, a computer game. “Transformers 3 will quickly speed up the trend,” said Ms Zhang.