Are TV Ads Still Relevant In China?

Weibo, WeChat, Youku—when talking about content delivery and marketing campaigns, social media platforms have been the latest buzz. But one channel has been conspicuously left behind—traditional broadcast television. Has the era of big-budget TV advertising passed in China?

On this week’s episode of Thoughtful China, Alfonso de Dios, founder of Telos Media Works, discusses with guests whether TV is struggling to remain relevant in China, where digital and social media is all the rage. Guests include director of media practice James Galpin from global research agency Milward Brown, senior communications planning director Ge Yun from media planner Carat China, strategy partner Lyndon Morant from marketing agency Mindshare China, and D. Sriram, CEO of TV commercial distribution specialist Group IMD.

Elsewhere in the world, Galpin says, TV producers are integrating and monetizing by reproducing broadcast content on digital platforms. He notes that while there’s probably a greater separation between online and TV in China at the moment, it’s probably going to get more integrated somewhere down the line.

Morant agrees, and gives examples of the American model, where viewers can have real-time conversations with characters at live events via “hashtags”. While QR codes on TV shows are popular in China these days because of WeChat, says Morant, Chinese television has done little else, and still sees video sites as competition. “Where TV and online work closely, advertising opportunities become interesting,” Morant says.

However, all guests agree that Chinese TV’s biggest problem with staying relevant is its apparent inability to produce good content. The content on TV is getting increasingly uninteresting, notes Ge, since Chinese internet users can easily get the latest series from Korea or the UK online.

“Content is king,” says Galpin. “If you’ve got great content, you’ll get eyeballs to it, and you’ll just find the most efficient places to distribute it.”

It’s often not that local television writers and directors are unimaginative, but China’s heavy censorship means they are severely restricted in what they can or cannot put out.

“I think it’s a far more regulatory-driven issue than it is a simple ‘they’re not making good enough content. They’re not allowed [to make] what would be the primary viewing choice of most people most of the time.”

In the end, Ge Yun feels that the discussion should not really be about whether TV is still relevant, but rather about looking at the objectives of the communication. If the objective is to build awareness, then TV is still the most important channel. If the communication’s objective is to deepen the relationship between the brand and consumers, TV is unable to fulfill that and digital comes into place.

But marketers must be wary of hyping the power of digital, says Galpin; digital is simply a distribution mechanism. “One of the most misguided things in the digital world is that most consumers actually do engage with brand communication; they don’t. But those brand communication[s] still work,” says Galpin. “People get obsessed with the interaction effects when in fact, sometimes, most of the benefits are derived from non-interaction effects, which is not so different from traditional media.”

 

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