The video shorts, downloaded to mobile phones, combine education and entertainment with a dose of product placement. In one episode, a college co-ed carrying a pizza box asks a friend to join her for a study session. In another, two girls preparing for their dates apply makeup while talking about their respective boyfriends.
The producers have been in discussions with a number of consumer product brands including Avon, Yum Brands, Coca-Cola, and McDonald's for product placement deals. While they had no firm commitments by press time, Emage Media's Ann Eskridge thinks it's only a matter of time. "Any company with, or seeking a foothold in China can use this technology to get some one-on-one attention from the young people they are trying to attract," Eskridge says.
Advertisers targeting Chinese youth face a number of obstacles, including a government-controlled television system that considers advertising an afterthought. "Advertisers there have no idea when their commercial comes on or who sees it. It may run and it may not," Eskridge says.
Production costs for the vignettes are about $12,000 per one-minute segment. Produced in Detroit using local students as actors, the segments are distributed in China by U100, a Beijing-based digital entertainment firm that has relationships with several mobile phone providers.
Eskridge says that if the Chinese experiment succeeds, Emage and Magnetic want to try it in the United States. While Federal Communications Commission regulations enacted last year restrict the delivery of unsolicited messages to mobile phones and personal digital assistants, several companies have experimented with mobile advertising on an opt-in basis. Lee Hall