Trending on TV: Workplace and Suspense Dramas Find Brand Fans

Contemporary, realistic dramas continue to take center stage on TV and video streaming platforms, as historical costume and fantasy content takes a back seat under regulatory pressure. From the female-focused “Nothing But Thirty” (三十而已) and “Twenty Your Life On” (二十不惑) to suspense dramas that speak to human nature such as “The Bad Kids” (隐秘的角落), the hits of summer 2020 drew rave reviews and marked a turning point for new types of content.

White-collar workplace dramas are popular in China, with their aspirational takes on industries from law and real estate to public relations and fashion, and they provide an ideal platform for product placements and other brand integrations that can pair brands with the lifestyles of the upwardly mobile professionals portrayed in such series.

The latest buzzed-about offering in this genre is Dragon TV’s “Ordinary Glory” (平凡的荣耀), which is also airing on Zhejiang Satellite TV and streaming on Youku. A long-awaited remake of South Korean hit “Incomplete Life,” the Chinese version is set in a Shanghai investment firm and teams up a workaholic manager (played by Mark Chao) against an inexperienced newcomer, with conflict eventually turning into cooperation and success. Word-of-mouth has been driving viewership, with the series topping the rankings on various platforms.

  • Liquor brand Jinjiu has been drawing attention as the drama’s title sponsor thanks to its brand integration, which includes product placement (such as its appearance when characters are seen having meals) along with storylines that refer to the brand. The drama’s focus on the process of how young people adapt to high-stress work environments aligns with Jinjiu’s brand message of promoting health through ingredients that are inspired by traditional Chinese medicine.

  • Jiyoujia, Alibaba’s home improvement and decor platform, recently partnered with “Ordinary Glory” by appointing cast members as its new brand ambassadors. Actors Bai Jingting, Wei Daxun, and others participated in a livestream broadcast for Jiyoujia and filmed a promotional clip for Jiyoujia for Weibo to boost its exposure.

After some previous setbacks, iQiyi’s suspense-focused “Mist Theater” is back with an all-new suspense drama, “The Long Night” (沉默的真相), which has achieved a Douban score of 9.2 and more than 110,000 reviews, with many fans praising its film-like quality. Both “The Long Night” and Mist Theater’s earlier “The Bad Kids” are based on works by author Zijin Chen.

  • But although reviews have been strong for the series, which merges three intense storylines, fans have been less keen on the constant product placement and advertisement found within the show. Snack chain Bestore, Hozon Auto, self-heating hot pot brand Mo Xiaoxian, and Anmuxi yogurt are all sponsors for this suspense drama, and the incorporation of their marketing into the content has taken some aback, particularly when branded graphics appear on-screen during climactic scenes, distracting viewers at critical moments.

A report from Ent Data highlights some reasons why suspense dramas have taken off with Chinese audiences:

  • They tackle contemporary social problems head-on and spark debate on questions of values and beliefs, thereby increasing engagement with the audience.

  • With a sweet spot of 12 or so episodes per series for the suspense dramas, viewers may be more willing to try them out, as they require far less of a commitment than traditional series that run to 40 episodes or more.


– This article originally appeared on Content Commerce Insider.