TREND-SETTING: The leading male in Love Is Not Blind, Wang Xiaojian, wears a sunflower hat in a scene from the movie. The hat has been a hit at online stores (FILE)
In November the Chinese movie industry experienced a startling surprise. Love Is Not Blind, a low-budget movie with no prominent director or major star, hit 344.8 million yuan ($54.5 million) in box office revenue, despite the film's budget was only 9 million yuan ($1.4 million).
The film, which tells the 33-day experience of a girl named Huang Xiaoxian after she breaks up with her boyfriend, owes its unexpected blockbusting success to its innovative marketing strategy: micro-blog marketing.
The number of followers of the official micro-blog for Love Is Not Blind hit nearly 100,000, attracted by recommendations of related micro-blog messages, impressive box office lines, and positive word of mouth.
By December 7, search queries for Love Is Not Blind had exceeded 8 million. Those for Wang Xiaojian, the leading male, were close to 1.5 million.
From content creation to the promotion process, fans found it easy to relate to the movie's characters. It is a "big party that everybody can participate in," said the movie's producer Hao Wei.
In May 2009, Bao Jingjing, author of the original novel, posted it on Douban, a popular website and also a virtual community where young Chinese people share comments on movies, books and music. The novel attracted a number of netizens.
Disappointment in love is an experience as common as a cold or fever. Bao wrote the story well, making it optimistic and fun, yet also melancholic, said Teng Huatao, director of the movie.
The successful marketing strategy was not entirely by choice. "We failed in partnering with a big brand to cover the promotion cost, because the company had no confidence in the movie," said Chen Su, an expert on social media studies and head of WisdomFish Culture Communication, which was responsible for the promotion of the film.
Movies with 3D and Chinese martial arts elements dominate the Chinese film industry, and Love Is Not Blind had trouble finding support. The promoters needed an innovative strategy to attract the coveted 18 to 30 demographic. But how to reach them?
Feeling deficient is the common problem of young lovers. They fall into love quickly and abandon love just as quickly; they are willing to share their feelings with others and such feelings will be echoed among young people, said Chen.
Based on this thought, WisdomFish started to make an online video expressing the theme of disappointment. They went to several major cities in China, looked for young people experiencing disappointment in love, and recorded them. It was a smashing success. The first video attracted 20 million page views.
However, this was still not enough. Promoters forwarded the micro-blog message, leading to a remarkable box office success, making new-media movie promotion the real star of the show.
"In this 'we the media' era, a slight glance at any information in the subway or elevator can lead to an Internet search query. People get the information about a movie from the micro-blog, scan the movie comments and ratings on Douban, and watch its videos on Renren," said Chen. Renren is a popular social media site in China, equivalent to Facebook in the United States.
With the success of Love Is Not Blind, more and more investors see the potential in new-media movie promotion. This is good news for low-budget movies as well as young directors and filmmakers.
The Chinese movie industry should both accelerate movie theater construction and promote innovation, said Zhang Huijun, President of the Beijing Film Academy, at the China Academic Annual Meeting of Film in Beijing on November 27, 2011.
To support young filmmakers is to support the Chinese movie industry, said Zhang.
His words were echoed by Li Qiankuan, Chairman of the China Film Association and head of the China Film Foundation. Li called for the movie industry to pay more attention to young directors and low-budget movies.
Inflation has increased the cost of filmmaking, so low-budget movies are becoming a good choice for reducing risk, said Wang Tianyun, Vice President of the Shanghai Film Group Corporation.
Chinese experts agreed that such a change is not a bad thing, as the blockbusters represent the influence of Chinese movies, while low-budget movies represent the potential of Chinese movies.
Micro-blog marketing is in line with young people's pursuit of fashion, and meets with their aspirations to escape the constraints of traditional life. In the future more and more movies will adopt micro-blog marketing.
However, experts also warn that micro-blog movie marketing should also pay attention to the interaction topics, and avoid vulgar content.
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