China’s vibrant TV and video sector abounds in opportunities for brand integration. In 2011, the government issued a ban on the airing of mid-broadcast commercial spots during dramas and films on television, with the result that networks and advertisers have had to find other ways of putting brands in front of viewers. And the impact has not been limited to television, either. As streaming services seek to grow their paid, ad-free subscription revenues and shift to investing in content instead of acquiring it, they have prioritized the development of innovative strategies for brands to be part of the commercial-free future of programming. The more clever types of brand placement have received generally positive feedback from Chinese viewers, thanks to their interactive and entertaining qualities.
In this two-part report, we will survey the key types of brand placement on Chinese television and streaming video, starting with scripted programs. In the second part, we will look at brand integration techniques more commonly seen on non-scripted shows.
1) Pre-roll ads (贴片)
The standard commercial spot, limited to airing in between dramas and films shown on television. These ads do not necessarily bear any relationship to the show they run with. On video streaming platforms, paying subscribers can opt out of these ads.
A pre-roll commercial for Yili, one of China’s largest dairy companies.
2) Product placement (植入)
In most cases, product placements are paid, and can vary from the simple appearance of a product in a scene to the writing of specific plot points to include a brand in the storyline. Viewers tend to be highly critical of obvious brand intrusions into dramatic plots, as Chinese dramas already have a reputation for “watering down” content with unnecessary subplots in order to increase episode counts. In non-scripted programming, “designated product” (指定产品) is used to indicate this marketing technique.
Brands even find creative placement opportunities on costume dramas. On “Princess Agents” (楚乔传) and several other historical series, e-commerce platform VIPshop has established a distinctive presence with traditional-looking shops under the fictional name “VIP Pavilion.”
3) Interstitial ads (中插)
Branded content shown in the middle of a program. The prevailing trend is to tie the brand closely to the content of the show by creating “mini-dramas” that can entertain viewers.
On the costume drama “Longest Day in Chang’An” (长安十二时辰), electric scooter brand Niu inserted an ad that offered a “subplot” with the characters from the show promoting its products.
4) Creative banners (创意帖 / 压屏条)
On-screen text and graphics that make direct reference to a plot point in a drama.
On teen drama “Growing Pain” (少年派), online education provider Xueersi uses a pop-up banner to comment on the on-screen action. As a student asks her classmate for help with math, Xueersi’s copy reads, “In this area, we have a bit more expertise than Sanyi [the male character].”
5) Bullet comments (aka danmu 弹幕 )
On-screen user commentary is a very distinctive feature of Chinese video streaming, and one that advertisers can also participate in.
On “The Advisors Alliance” (军师联盟), Chinese cosmetics company Wetherm promoted its products with bullet comments.
6) Previously on…/ Next on… (前情回顾 / 下集预告 )
Advertising images may share the screen with highlights from previous or future episodes.
An ad for Rio Strong cocktails is displayed as highlights from previous episodes play on “The Advisors Alliance” (军师联盟)”
Graphic elements promoting Dongpeng energy drinks are seen with clips from the following episode of “The Advisors Alliance” (军师联盟).
7) Oral endorsement (aka ”TIPS,” 口播)
Product information supplied by a cast member. This type of ad content is often featured before or after an episode.
A spot for the online home decor company Tubato.com on “The Longest Day In Chang’an” features an oral endorsement from Lei Jiayin, a lead actor on the series who is also a brand ambassador for Tubatu.
8) Title sponsorship / Presenting sponsorship (冠名/ 特约赞助)
Although title sponsors are far more commonly seen on non-scripted programming, they occasionally make an appearance on major dramas as well.
Audi appeared as the title sponsor of costume drama “The Advisors Alliance.”