CBI Case Study: Online Education Provider Gets High Marks for Branding on Hit Teen Drama

The most successful brand integrations find a sweet spot that links the relevance of their product to the creative content they are linked with. This week’s case study looks at brand integration by Xueersi Online School (学而思网校, a subsidiary of TAL Education Group) within the most-watched series in China earlier this summer. 

School’s out, and summer is the key period for new programming in the China market. One of the biggest hits of the season is “Growing Pain” (少年派), which follows the lives of four urban families with kids in high school. The series premiered on June 9 on Hunan Satellite Television, broadcasting 41 episodes through July 1. It was also made available for streaming through Mango, iQiyi, Tencent Video, and Youku. 

The premise: High school education plays a big role in “Growing Pain,” as the teen characters prepare for the immense stress of the all-important gaokao, the college placement exam that is the deciding factor in university admissions. The target audience of the series is also in a similar demographic as these characters, and likely to face the relentless pressure to study hard and succeed. Xueersi, which offers online tutoring in all major high school subjects, is a brand relevant to the fictional plot of the series as well as the real lives of its viewers. 

Implementation: Xueersi adopted a multi-pronged strategy to associate its brand with “Growing Pain.”

  • Pop-up ad integration

Xueersi inserts itself into the “Growing Pain” storyline by introducing small pop-up banners in the lower-left corner of the screen. These banners feature a cute monkey-scholar mascot, Xueersi’s name and open book logo, and a line of text that comments directly on the action on the screen. For example, when high schooler Deng Xiaoqi asks classmate Qian Sanyi for help with math, Xueersi’s copy reads, “In this area, we have a bit more expertise than Sanyi.” This type of clever brand placement has received positive feedback from Chinese viewers, as it is seen as interactive and entertaining.

  • Use of cast members and influencers

Yan Ni, who plays the academically obsessed “tiger mom,” Wang Shengnan, filmed a brief ad spot endorsing Xueersi. The commercial is brief and direct, simply associating the actor who plays the show’s most self-sacrificing character with Xueersi as the top brand in online education.

A longer 30-second spot used native advertising, with Jiang Guannan, who plays one of the teen leads, in the role of the stressed-out student working hard at his desk with a gaokao calendar showing 116 days until the big test. In the background, a blurry parental figure notes that his results are not good enough, but worries that he himself can’t teach successfully. Jiang turns and reveals that Qian Sanyi, the top student on “Growing Pain,” is a Xueersi customer and that the company counts numerous Harvard, Tsinghua, and Peking University graduates among its teaching staff. The ad aired in late June, building suspense as the series drew towards its finale, and Xueersi promoted it through collaboration with social media influencers on Weibo.

  • Comic campaign 

Xueersi conducted a social media campaign around a series of cartoon strips depicting humorous conflicts between a parent and a bookworm child. Organized around the hashtag “Don’t Watch the Series With a Bookworm” (#千万不要和学霸一起看剧#), the comics show two simply drawn characters looking at still images from either “Growing Pain” or a Xueersi ad. The father character asks a simple question, receives an in-depth reply that only a brainiac could come up with, and a humorous explosion of frustration ensues. At the bottom of each strip, viewers are invited to answer a question related to the subject of the comic and tag @Xueersi in their replies for a chance to win an iPad. 


Xueersi also promoted advertisers on the show more broadly through the Weibo hashtag “Advertising on ‘Growing Pain’ Becomes Excellent” (#少年派广告成精了#). While other brands associated with the show, such as Zihaiguo foods and War Horse energy drinks, are mentioned, most of the attention has focused on Xueersi and its effectively entertaining marketing efforts.