Chinese brands get the goods on Transformers
Updated: 2011-07-16 11:10
By Liu Wei (China Daily)
A lead actor wearing a Meters/bonwe T-shirt chats with a small robot in the Hollywood blockbuster Transformers: Dark of the Moon. [Photo / China Daily]
SHANGHAI - When Marjorie Ma, a Chinese student in the United States, heard "May I finish my Shuhua milk?" in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, she couldn't believe her ears.
"A Chinese milk brand in a Hollywood movie about humanoid robots? Why and how did that happen?"
Liu Siru can answer that question. Liu's Filmworks, an entertainment marketing company, helped four Chinese businesses place their products in the summer blockbuster, which will open at mainland theaters on July 21, a month after its US premiere.
This is the first time so many Chinese brands have had such high-profile exposure in a major Hollywood movie.
Yili Group, the Chinese dairy giant that makes Shuhua brand milk, is one of them.
In a 10 second scene in the movie, a scientist played by US comedian Ken Jeong loudly drinks from a carton of the milk in an elevator. The writing on the carton is in Chinese.
According to Liu, Yili said the product had to be mentioned by a likable character in a relatively sparse, closed space, because clutter in the background would distract viewers.
The negotiations weren't brief or lighthearted as the scene.
"Michael Bay was, like, what? The milk isn't even distributed in the US," Liu recalled the director saying on hearing Yili's demands.
After a series of conference calls among producers, Bay, Liu and the brand, the director managed to create the scene.
"It's funny," Bay said at a news conference in Shanghai on July 14. "In America, you see all the Americans laugh."
Bay said he wasn't advertising the milk, but using it as a "comedy tool".
"Putting Coca-Cola there was not funny, but putting Shuhua milk was funny. I'm not doing an ad for milk, I am doing a movie called Transformers."
Yili, obviously, sees it differently.
"The box office of Transformers 3 is expected to reach 600 million yuan ($92 million) in China. Tens of millions of people will see it," said Zhang Jianqiu, Yili Group's executive president, in an e-mail interview.
"Audiences will help promote our brand when they talk about the movie."
Yili would not say how much it spent for the exposure.
But a film insider, who wished to remain anonymous, estimated that the placement plus an accompanying marketing campaign could cost up to $10 million.
Meters/bonwe Group, a leading Chinese apparel company, already knows the ropes in Hollywood. It had its logo flashed in the background of a fight scene in Transformers 2.
This time it wanted lead actor Shia LaBeouf to wear its T-shirt, and it couldn't be a torn, wrinkled or dirty one - no easy task, considering the action LaBeouf's character goes through.
LaBeouf wore the T-shirt in his first take in the movie and the following love scene with his girlfriend.
Xie Wei, brand manager of the company's MTEE line, mailed about 20 T-shirts to the film set. "We wanted to show something only we have, something creative," he said.
He was thrilled that LaBeouf chose one with their line's signature image.
It was easier for TCL, the electronics company, and Lenovo, the computer manufacturer, to place their products. After all, TVs and computers are a must in a movie involving NASA and the Pentagon.
"There are always conflicts between filmmakers and the businesses, but I have to say, the final scenes are a delight," she said.
China has become such an important market - it was the biggest international box office contributor for Transformers 2 and Avatar.
And some partners, such as Meters/bonwe, TCL, and Lenovo, provide promotional support, which can further help in the box office, said David Leener, the film's product placement coordinator.
China imports only 20 foreign movies for release in cinemas. It would be a huge disappointment for the companies that arrange placement in films if they never got to Chinese theaters or the big scene was cut by censors.
"We make the risks clear, and recommend movies most likely to play in Chinese theaters, but the companies have to keep the risks in mind," Liu said.
But Liu said she already has more orders. The next Hollywood blockbusters with Chinese product placement, she said, might be the new Bond movie and Ice Age 4.