Leonardo DiCaprio does something in China that he dare not do in the US: peddle product. He is appearing now, unnamed but clearly recognizable, in ads for a Chinese domestic mobile phone brand called Oppo. His face is currently plastered all over my local subway station in Shenzhen.
It’s a bold move by a little-known Chinese mobile phone company to storm into the big time, and grab market share from Nokia, Samsung, LG and Apple. None of these global brands uses a big name to front its ads in China. Oppo is determined to compete as equals with these larger companies. It’s still learning the rules of building a successful brand. Its tactics and ad strategy are a little off-beat. But, Oppo has the resources and distribution in China to challenge the large global mobile phone brands, and so cause them headaches in the world’s largest mobile phone market.
The ads are a bit of a head-scratcher. They are framed to look like a strip of celluloid and feature, in the background, a European cobblestone street, a moped making a fast getaway while someone, maybe Leo, gives chase. The only text are the words “Find Me”, in English. In other words, it doesn’t have anything to do with mobile phones, not even subliminally. It looks like a movie poster. Still, seeing an A-List Hollywood star in a Chinese ad for a Chinese brand is no workaday occurrence.
Leo is hugely popular in China, especially among women under 40. “Titanic” may well be the most-watched American movie of all time in China. No one knows for sure, since the movie came out in 1997, and circulated in China mainly through pirated video and DVDs.
Getting Leo to appear in the ads is quite a coup for Oppo. The Chinese company reportedly paid Dicaprio $5 million. A steep price, but the company is betting that Leo can pry open wallets in a way no other celebrity endorser can. The reason: Oppo is the only “girls only” major mobile phone brand in the world. The company’s phones are all aimed at, and advertised to, females.
Oppo’s phones are all pretty standard, with no unique technology under-the-hood. But, they come in bright colors and feature girly do-dads like crystal keys. Oppo’s marketing, with the exception of the new DiCaprio ad, features Chinese women traveling in exotic locations, or chatting with friends.
Oppo is trying to pull off a challenging feat: to catapult above the hundreds of no-name mobile phone manufacturers and brands, and establish itself as a premium brand in China. The other Chinese mobile phone brands do little to no advertising, and instead compete mainly on price. With its big ad budget and quirky strategy of targeting women from 18-40, Oppo aims to compete head-to-head with Samsung, Nokia and Apple.
Will it work? My guess is that Oppo will get a decent return for the $5 million spent on DiCaprio. The Chinese market is ready for a splashy self-confident Chinese domestic phone brand with some star power.
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man.”