Spring Festival (Chinese Lunar New Year) has always been the big one as far as Chinese television is concerned, with almost an entire nation tuning into the annual Spring Festival Gala TV show aired by national broadcaster CCTV. Since its debut in 1983, the show has been a must-watch on Spring Festival Eve, with reported audience numbers regularly exceeding 700 million.
With that kind of exposure, it is not surprising that the event has also been a magnet for brands. While the show has no ad breaks and regulators have now clamped down on product placements, the ad slots that come immediately before and after the show are highly coveted.
However, for young consumers in particular the gala has lost some of its appeal. A tired format and a jaded and fragmented audience has led to audiences migrating to other offerings on provincial TV stations or forsaking traditional TV viewing altogether for online video and other forms of digital entertainment.
So, given these circumstances, how can brands build an association with the biggest TV event of the year? One answer may come from an alternative big night of TV ratings — New Year’s Eve. Unlike in the West, this was not traditionally a big night in the Chinese TV calendar, but this changed several year’s ago when Hunan TV launched its New Year’s Eve show. Other large broadcasters — including CCTV — have now followed suit and celebrities and viewers have caught on to the trend.
Importantly for brands, the New Year’s Eve shows are not subject to restrictive branding regulations. But where the Spring Festival Gala advertising has always been about a brand throwing huge amounts of cash on a single-channel exposure, the most recent round of New Year’s Eve programming showed brands committed to a more integrated and sustainable approach, specifically one that tapped into online media consumption habits in China.
A good example from this year is Jiaduobao, a popular cooling herbal tea brand in China. After building its image on ‘The Voice of China’ (last year’s most popular talent show) the brand extended its title sponsorships to the New Year’s Eve’s shows of CCTV, Hunan TV and Zhejiang TV.
Jiaduobao turned to online social channels to better leverage its investment, creating a weibo account for its CCTV sponsorship and running various activities before, during and after the show’s broadcast. The account launched on December 22, and gathered over 52,000 fans around 244 total posts. The brand ran similar online initiatives in relation to its other TV deals.
With the more traditional Spring Festival Gala broadcast on February 9, it will be interesting to see how many brands follow the Jiaduobao example, especially given the current advertising restrictions. With official sponsorship of the show limited and audiences turning to online entertainment, the opportunity is still there to to optimise the halo effect of the most-viewed TV show in the world.