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Chinese OTT platform iQiyi revealed its branded content and marketing plans at its annual iJoy Conference in Shanghai last month.
Under the theme “New Trends New Growth,” iQiyi plans to focus on technology innovation — especially in the areas of 5G and artificial intelligence — and original content.
The company plans to invest almost US$3b on 200 new programmes, including over 30 reality shows and 100-plus dramatic series. iQiyi’s evolution towards original content is a far cry from the days when the platform was heavily reliant on imported drama, especially from South Korea, to draw viewers. It currently leads the domestic market for online drama with blockbuster hits such as The Story of Yanxi Palace.
Under what it terms a “top and circle” strategy, iQiyi will draw on popular cultural trends and social influences to develop part of its content to have broader mass appeal, while also expanding its focus on more specialised content to cater to niche audience groups.
And increasingly, iQiyi is following the mantra that “advertising is content, content is advertising,” which provides further opportunities for brands to achieve effective integration with its programming. Below are some of the key issues discussed at the iJoy conference that are most relevant to brands.
Dual-pronged content strategy
iQiyi will continue with its heavy focus on youth trends to reach the all-important Gen Z and millennial audiences. The platform has had great success so far in this area, with shows such as Rap of China and U Can U Bibi among the most popular nationwide with their target audiences.
In addition, more content will be developed for underserved demographics. Gong Yu, founder and CEO of iQiyi, said that while producing a show that has mass appeal is obviously considered a success, content that targets specific user types may be the next major growth area. As an example, he noted middle-aged male audiences: They are more likely to have higher incomes and greater purchasing power, but few production companies consider their programming needs.
iQiyi’s “brand value growth model” aim to bank on the platform’s advantages in premium content to offer brands opportunities that resonate with the personal values of target audiences. For example, iQiyi’s hit talent competition Idol Producer used the phrase “the harder you work, the luckier you will be” as its slogan, which fans of the show came to identify with, and could be adopted by brands in developing marketing plans around the show.
A planned launch of three new original drama categories — 7100, TOP, and Themed — with long-term brand partners that include Coca-Cola and Huawei, will be accompanied by varying goals for audiences, genre and production depending on the category.
AI to aid branding
Gong Yu also highlighted the use of AI, noting that visual and audio recognition technologies now allow ads to blend seamlessly with content so that the user experience less disrupted by advertising. Other AI-driven technology places ads as on-screen pop-ups during programs, or as part of the feed when users browse on the platform, in a manner personalised to the content being viewed, and iQiyi has over twenty marketing features that it can present to its paid subscribers. Viewers will also be empowered to more directly influence the ads they see through iQiyi’s “smart ads,” which will enable them to choose which ads to watch.
Xu Yongming, vice president of advertising innovation, outlined several other developments in how brands can be highlighted on iQiyi’s platform:
See Now, Buy Now
The future of brand integration in entertainment will allow consumers to shop featured products as they see them on screen. iQiyi has already enabled a function that allows users to add goods to a shopping basket while they watch a show, but the main challenge is determining which scenes are most suitable for marketing to viewers.
Extended Marketing Opportunities
iQiyi is also committed to expanding the ability of brands to reach potential consumers offline. Popular celebrities appearing on iQiyi shows offer an avenue for brands to leverage China’s booming fan economy by signing up-and-coming stars as brand ambassadors. Brands can then be promoted by celebrities on a show, though various social media channels and live events.
Chief Marketing Officer Vivian Wang discussed how iQiyi pays close attention to emerging consumer trends in China’s pop and youth cultures, such as sneakers, blind boxes and milk tea in recent times. These provide a wealth of new marketing opportunities to reach young consumers through creative derivative products.
Another area of focus will be the luxury market. While beauty and fashion brands have had a presence on iQiyi for some time, over the next year the company seeks to develop content that better match the needs of premium brands. An example is the upcoming streetwear-themed “Fourtry”, a reality show with celebrities Angelababy, Kris Wu, and others manning a trendy boutique in Tokyo.