China Looks to Iron Man 3, Hollywood as Gateway to US Living Rooms


Behind Robert Downey Jr. were three product logos during a recent junket to Beijing to promote Iron Man 3. One was Audi, one was FAW-Volkswagen and the other was TCL.

Iron Man 3 re-upped its deal with Audi, a deal we said complicates the product placement continuity across Marvel’s Avengers property. One other Iron Man 3 partnership that could also cause future continuity issues is the film’s big tie-in with China’s tech brand TCL.

But this is not TCL’s first dance with a US blockbuster. Once again, the brand is hoping to use its position as a Hollywood sidekick to springboard its way into foreign living rooms. It appears to be working and TCL might soon be one of those select few Chinese brands that have cracked foreign markets, even if those foreign markets don’t know TCL is Chinese.[more]

Iron Man 3 will feature TCL’s flat screen TVs and cloud computing technology. TCL’s exclusive trailer also proves TCL’s smartphone brand Alcatel will receive some major screentime. As part of the lead up to the film’s May 3 release, TCL will be—in the words of TCL Australia spokesperson David Wolf to site Tech Trader—”drip feeding footage of the Iron Man 3 movie.”

But the product placements in the film are gravy. What TCL is looking for is the legitimizing force granted by a big-budget Hollywood association. TCL also just paid $5 million for the naming rights to Los Angeles’ iconic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The “TCL Chinese Theatre” already has a Twitter feed and in a bit of superb platform integration, Iron Man 3 will feature a scene that destroys the TCL Chinese Theatre. It’s a scene that appears to have been reshot and added in March after the renaming announcement in January.

At the end of the third quarter of 2012, TCL global market share for LCD TVs increased 1.7 percent to 6.7 percent, making it the world’s fourth largest manufacturer. In overseas markets, these results represented a year-over-year increase of 36.7 percent. TCL wants more though.

In a way, TCL has been in America for some time. Its products are branded in North America under the RCA label. TCL is no longer happy achieving in secret. It wants the added value of brand recognition. 

In 2011, the tech brand appeared alongside other Chinese brands like Lenovo, Meters/Bonwe and Yili Milk in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third installment of the franchise. (Noteworthy, Paramount just announced that Transformers 4 will be produced in China with local partner China Movie Channel.) At the time, TCL rolled out Transformer tie-in commercials that looked as non-Chinese as possible. The message, of course: If we’re good enough for Hollywood, we’re good enough for your home.

Unlike other Chinese brands, TCL’s tech pedigree puts it in a good position for success in western markets. While other asian—and especially Chinese—brands face discrimination and loads of cultural baggage, those focused on tech already have an open door. There was a time when tech brands with distinctly Asian names or origins were untrusted. But brands from Japan and Korea paved the way for TCL by making quality, inexpensive products that Americans came to know as just as good as the brand name they could properly pronounce. A similar phenomenon can be traced for automobile and motorcycle brands.

It would be a tremendous leap forward for Chinese brands to see TCL become a household name in the US. A recent survey of 1,500 US households by HD Trade Services found that “94 percent of Americans surveyed could not name one Chinese brand.” And the only brand to achieve an above-2-percent recall rate was Lenovo, which many may only know because it used to be IBM.

Absurdly enough, one of the greatest branding challenges TCL may face in the US is the confusion over how similar its name is to TLC, the popular cable network of train-wreck reality shows. Then again, “TLC on your TCL” might be a great cross-branded promotion.

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