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When Hotpot Gets Really Hot: Haidilao Customers Shocked by Steamy TV

Haidilao is taking its customer service to a whole new level.

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Customers dining at a Haidilao hotpot restaurant in Wuhan on January 5th were shocked when the big television screen in the restaurant, usually used for showing Haidilao ads, suddenly showed an X-rated film.

Haidilao is China’s most famous hotpot chain, and is usually known for its excellent service. On busy nights, people stand in line for hours at the Haidilao restaurants, that are always packed full of people enjoying the good food and outstanding hospitality.

The incident, that happened on Saturday afternoon at the restaurant’s Great Ocean mall location, has now made its rounds on Chinese social media after one Haidilao customer shared photos of the embarrassing moment on Weibo. At time of writing, the hashtag “Haidilao TV shows vulgar scene” (#海底捞电视播不雅画面#) has received more than 240 million views.

Waiters at the restaurant were fast to turn off the television. According to some online reports, a reporter visited the restaurant a few hours after the incident happened, and confirmed the television was still turned off at night.

On Sunday, January 6, Haidilao issued a statement in which the restaurant apologized to the customers for the “vulgar content” that was displayed on the television, and that police are investigating the case. Online pornography is banned in China, and spreading X-rated films is illegal.

It is yet unsure how the film ended up on the restaurant’s screen, and whether it was a Haidilao employee who was watching the video and then made a mistake, or that a customer was using IR or Bluetooth on their smartphone and (purposely) connected it to their screen.

The incident has provoked hilarity on social media, where some netizens suggest that the X-rated film perhaps was a “customer demand” and that “Haidilao’s service is beyond expectations,” or that people were “eating and getting hard.”

The incident, as of now, does not seem to negatively affect people’s love for the Haidilao brand. “Please don’t close it down, I still want to eat hotpot,” some netizens comment, while others simply state: “Haidilao, I’m coming!”

(PS Want to know more about steamy hotpots? Check out What’s on Weibo’s sister site Hotpot Ambassador!)

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

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China Marketing & Advertising

When Ad Breaks Get Weird: Branded Content in Chinese TV Dramas Is Ruining It For the Viewers

China’s ubiquitous inserted ad marketing is alienating viewers from their favorite TV drama characters.

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Ad breaks can be annoying, but when it’s the main character of your favorite historical drama promoting the latest smartphone, it can actually ruin the viewer experience. In recent online discussions, China’s ubiquitous ‘Inserted Ad Marketing’ (中插广告), that goes beyond product placement, is being attacked by netizens and media.

A 2017 Ad Age article on the high levels of branded content in China’s online TV argues that Chinese viewers generally do not mind embedded marketing. They have allegedly become so used to to all kinds of branded distractions in TV shows, dramas, and films, that it is just “another part of the entertainment” (Doland 2017). But recent discussions on Chinese social media signal that the general sentiments regarding inserted sponsored content are changing.

On January 6, Chinese author Ma Boyong (@马伯庸, 4.5 million followers) posted an article on Weibo in which he criticized the phenomenon of inserted ad content in Chinese television series, saying the marketing style often does not suit the characters and is making the actors less credible.

Although Ma does not oppose to embedded marketing per se, he argues it hurts the credibility of TV dramas and the viewer’s experience when it does not blend in with the style of the TV drama and its characters.

One of the TV dramas where the sponsored segments ‘hurt’ the show, according to Ma, is Mystery of Antiques (古董局中局, 2018) that is based on one of the author’s novels. The actor Qiao Zhenyu (乔振宇), who plays the leading role, allegedly “looks like a fool” because of the inserted ad.

The type of advertising, that is central to this recent discussion, goes beyond product placement; it is the type of ad that appears inside (online) TV shows in which the actors, in character, straightforwardly promote a certain brand and product, sometimes in a scene dialogue (‘storyline ads’), but also often while looking directly into the camera (see example here or here, Chinese term: zhōngchā guǎnggào 中插广告).

The hashtag ‘Ma Boyong Roasts Inserted Ad Marketing’ (#马伯庸吐槽中插广告#) had received more than 50 million views on Weibo by Sunday night, with the overall majority of people supporting the author’s stance.

“Finally someone says this,” one commenter said: “When it just started out, it was new, and I could endure it, but now it just really annoys me.” “It is really disruptive,” others agree.

 

A New Kind of Money-Making Machine

 

China’s history of TV advertisement is not a long one; it wasn’t until 1979 that China’s first TV commercial was aired. Since then, the industry has blossomed, and branded content has become ubiquitous; the first TV drama incorporating product placement was broadcasted in 1991 (Li 2016).

Product placement is known as a powerful marketing tool since it is inescapable, has a long shelf life, is inexpensive, and unobtrusive (Huan et al 2013, 508). But as China’s product placement has been turning into ‘branded entertainment’ within the settings of the show, it is losing its ‘unobtrusiveness.’

Unsurprisingly, this is not the first time this type of advertising receives criticism. In 2017, various Chinese media, such as People’s Daily, noted the rise of inserted product ads, stating that TV dramas were “shooting themselves in the foot” with these ad campaigns.

China’s popular ‘inserted ad breaks’ remind of the weird and obvious product placement mocked in The Truman Show (1998).

When the protagonist of a dynastic costume drama suddenly promotes a new smartphone app during an inserted ad break, he falls out of character, and the entire drama loses credibility. Do you remember those weird ad breaks in the famous American movie The Truman Show? Even Truman did not fall for that!

Cartoon by People’s Daily

In China, this particular type of advertising can be traced back to the 2006 TV drama My Own Swordsman (武林外传), in which the characters suddenly turn to the camera in promoting a “White Camel Mountain” medicinal powder (watch the famous segment here).

Although that scene was for entertainment purposes only (the product was non-existent), it became reality in 2013, when the TV series Longmen Express (龙门镖局) first started using this kind of ‘creative’ advertising. Many online dramas then followed and started to use these inserted ads, especially since 2015 (Beijing Daily 2017). The promoted products are often new apps or money lending sites.

In the beginning, many people appreciated the novel way of advertising, and as the online video industry rose, so did the price of such advertisements. In a timeframe of roughly two years, their price became ten times higher. These type of ‘ad breaks’ have become an important and relatively easy money-making machine for drama productions (Beijing Daily 2017). In 2016 alone, Chinese TV drama productions made 800 million rmb (±116 million USD) through this marketing method – a figure that has been on the rise ever since.

 

The V-Effect: From Vips to Verfremdung

 

In China’s flourishing online streaming environment, one of the problems with inserted ad campaigns is that even ‘VIP members’ of popular video sites such as iQiyi cannot escape them, nor ‘skip’ them, even though they pay monthly fees to opt out of commercials (similar to YouTube Premium).

“The reason I signed up for a VIP membership is to avoid ads, and now we get this,” many annoyed netizens comment on Weibo.

Although that is one point that many people are dissatisfied with, the biggest complaint on social media regarding the inserted ad phenomenon is that it breaks down audience engagement in the show they are watching, and alienates them from the character, which is also known as verfremdungseffekt, distancing effect, or simply the ‘V-effect,’  a performing arts concept coined by German playwright Bertolt Brecht in the 1930s.

The “direct adress” of Frank Underwood in House of Cards is one of the reasons the show became such a hit.

The Brechtian “direct address” technique, one of the characteristics that made the American TV series House of Cards so successful, is employed to “break the fourth wall” – the imaginary wall between the actors and audience  – and serves a clear purpose: it makes viewers less emotionally attached to the characters and the narrative, it makes them more conscious and less likely to ‘lose themselves’ in the show they are watching, and is meant to provoke a social-critical audience response.

But this is exactly the faux pas China’s ubiquitous ‘creative inserted ads’ make in letting popular TV drama characters promote a new app or soda; it is not meant to provoke a social-critical response, it is meant to advertise a product. But by alienating audiences from the show for a commercial and non-meaningful purpose, they actually reach the opposite effect of what their marketing objective is. Audiences become annoyed, less engaged, and ‘exit the show’ (in Chinese, the term ‘出戏’ [disengage from the performance] is used).

“These kind of ads make the entire drama seem so low,” a typical comment on Weibo says. “What can we do? As long as people pay for it, they’ll do it,” others say.

Despite the recent attack on China’s ‘branded entertainment,’ there is no sign of a change in these marketing techniques. Perhaps, if critique persist, this might change in the future. For now, disgruntled viewers turn to social media to vent their frustrations: “These ads completely make me lose interest in the story, they need to be criticized. I’m happy someone stood up to say it.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Beijing Daily (北京日报). 2017. “创意中插广告泛滥,唯独缺了创意” [The Overflow of Creative Inserted Ads, Only They’re Lacking Creativity] (in Chinese). Beijing Daily, Oct 18. Available online http://bjrb.bjd.com.cn/html/2017-10/18/content_183998.htm [Jan 6th 2019].

Doland, Angela. 2017. “China’s online TV pushes product placement to crazy levels. Even crazier: Viewers don’t mind.” Ad Age, May 16. Vol.88(10), p.0030.

Huan Chen , En-Ying Lin , Fang Liu & Tingting Dai. 2013. “‘See Me or Not, I Am There’: Chinese White-Collar Moviegoers’ Interpretation of Product Placements in Chinese Commercial Movies.” Journal of Promotion Management, 19:5, 507-533.

Li, Hongmei. 2016. Advertising and Consumer Culture in China. Cambridge: Polity Press.


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China Marketing & Advertising

Bulgari’s Noteworthy New China Marketing Campaign on a Happy ‘Jew’ Year of the Pig (Zhu)

Bulgari’s wordplay is multidimensional, but did it consider Jewish people?

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A new marketing campaign by Italian luxury brand introduces “JEW” as a supposed ‘buzzword’ for the Year of the Pig (Zhu in Mandarin.

On January 4th, the Italian jewelry company Bulgari launched a remarkable campaign on WeChat and Weibo to promote its luxury goods for the New Year, which for China, will be the Year of the Pig.

The campaign was first spotted by Nathan Baker (@NateyBakes) who wondered on Twitter: “So Bulgari’s WeChat account just put out an article that spells the Chinese word for pig in a special way. Wonder if they consulted with any Jewish people first.”

The campaign on Weibo is introduced as follows (loose translation): “At the beginning of the new year, let your charm stand out. The Bulgari special Lunar New Year collection is launched. In the new year, you’re the ‘pearl’ (‘JEW’) in the palm [‘beloved one’]” [“新年伊始,你的魅力已展露锋芒. 宝格丽农历新年特别款作品全新上市. 新的一年,要你做掌上明JEW.”]

The campaign uses a few posters that show their new jewelry collection together with pigs.

The word ‘JEW’ is multidimensional in its Chinese use here by Bulgari.

(1) Firstly, it is a wordplay on the Mandarin pronunciation for ‘pig’ (猪) zhū, which, when pronounced, sounds similar to the English ‘Jew’ (listen here).

(2) Second, the use of ‘Jew’ in English could also be seen as an abbreviation for ‘jewelry.’

(3) Third, the campaign uses various Chinese idioms starting or ending with a character that is pronounced as ‘zhu‘ in Mandarin, where ‘Jew’ is used as a substitute. It is a play on words, as it could mean either ‘pig,’ ‘jewelry,’ as well as still conveying the meaning of the original idiom.

The Chinese idiom “pearl in the palm” or “beloved daughter” (掌上明珠, zhǎngshàngmíngzhū), for example, is written as “掌上明JEW”: it sounds the same, but the last character is replaced with the English ‘Jew,’* which then also changes the meaning of the idiom to something along the lines of “having a jewel in the hand” – which is used to promote a Bulgari watch.

The Chinese idiom 胸有成竹 (xiōngyǒuchéngzhú), meaning to have a well-thought-out plan, is used in combination with ‘Jew’ here, which also gives it a double meaning since it could then literally be translated as “your chest turns into jew[elery],” which is used to promote the necklace in the first picture.

Another idiom used in the campaign is 诸事顺利 (zhūshìshùnlì), which means that everything is going smoothly, and in which the first ‘zhu‘, again, is replaced by ‘JEW,’ which brings about a wordplay that the Bulgari jewelry is supposedly smooth, as well as the [year of the] pig.

All in all, one could argue that Bulgari’s marketing team has created a new marketing campaign that mixes up Chinese characters, English, and idioms in such a way that thinks of Chinese tradition and promotes their own luxury products.

However, as Nathan Baker notes, there is a sensitive problem in this campaign regarding the use of the word ‘Jew,’ especially when framed together with the images of a pig, which will surely raise more than a few eyebrows and, marketing-wise, is probably not a smart move for the Italian luxury brand.

Update: Wow, that was fast. The campaign already seems to have been deleted from Wechat as well as from Weibo.

By Manya Koetse

*Thanks to Annelous Stiggelbout for clarification

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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