by Michael O'Neill
November 30th, 2012

What is it that links a Chinese actress, the New Zealand Tourism Board, China’s biggest micro-blogging site and this year’s most high-profile movie release?

The answer lies in a very clever piece of integrated marketing.

The appearance of Yao Chen in a stunning blue dress complimented with elf ears at the world premier of The Hobbit in New Zealand earlier this week would have left most onlookers somewhat bemused. Yao is not starring in the movie and is little known outside of her native China. So why was she there?

To get to bottom of this, we need to start online. Yao may not have international presence of, say, Zhang Ziyi or Jackie Chan, but inside China it is an entirely different story. Yao is better known to China’s huge online community as the ‘Queen of Weibo’, and with over 26 million fans she has the most followed account on the micro-blogging site. She is the Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga you have never heard of.

In addition – and no doubt because of this popularity — Yao is an official ambassador for the New Zealand Tourism Board. And with the tourism board currently marketing itself around its Middle Earth links, her attendance at one of the country’s biggest events of the year slowly starts to make sense.

But the story doesn’t end there. The makers of The Hobbit no doubt jumped at the chance of having Yao walk the red carpet and share those lovely Hobbit-branded photographs with her vast network of followers. Sounds over cynical? Maybe not: The Hobbit recently opened up its own Weibo page, which attracted nearly 2,000 followers, and so is not immune to the benefits of micro-blogging in China. And what’s the bet that those follower numbers increase rapidly following Yao’s personal endorsement?

All in, this was a case study example not just of traditional celebrity endorsement but also the power of utilising online key opinion leaders (KOLs) in the China market. Yao’s fan base, as well as her personal and professional links to New Zealand (she held her marriage ceremony in the country earlier this month), made her a perfect choice to promote the new movie launch.

Although China limits the number of overseas-produced movies allowed in the market, The Hobbit has made the approved list and will be released at cinemas in early 2013. Thanks to Yao Chen, the first leg of the movie’s marketing campaign in China is now complete.

 

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