How Ogilvy Sells Liberal Arts to China via Social Media

China’s Xing Wei College is going through a transformation few would have thought possible a few years ago: from a trade school for IT students to one of the first American-style liberal arts colleges in mainland China. Digital marketing via OgilvyOne is helping to make it a reality.

In a country obsessed with math and engineering, the school needs to convince affluent Chinese families that the U.S. version of general education training is the progressive choice for ambitious students. Ogilvy Group Shanghai, including OgilvyOne and Ogilvy PR, was appointed to strategic and communication duties. Digital and social media marketing will be the primary platforms for the launch this month.
The client offers a unique marketing challenge, ideally suited to the Web-oriented environment of mainland China, acknowledges James Duan, vp of Ogilvy Group Shanghai. It’s targeting a motivated audience, in which the family is very involved in a student’s future. Parents actively seek information online about education opportunities, and their kids are heavily influenced by their social networks.
“We must communicate to both those groups about an educational philosophy that has not been available in the Chinese market until now,” he said. “We have to find the early-adopter parents and offspring who see the advantage of Chinese students becoming well-rounded individuals before they continue their education at top universities in the U.S.”
Although Xing Wei was a trade school for 10 years, the agency is treating it as a startup, since its new identity has no brand awareness in the crowded field of university educational services.
“Luckily, the expansion of digital media in China gives us lots of areas to play,” said Duan. Affluent parents will learn about the school via display ads that direct them to a new site that is full of upbeat content and marketing messages. Students, on the other hand, will discover and learn about the college on a host of social media, such as Weibo and Renren.
“Most parents want their child to go to MIT or Harvard and get a great job,” he said. “We need to find the select group of parents and students who can see college as an inspirational experience.”
So far, the campaign has begun on Weibo, China’s fast-growing Facebook and Twitter hybrid, to drive awareness and sharing. That effort will grow and the school’s website will be upgraded again in November, backed by a highly targeted digital display and search campaign. Offline, the effort will include print ads and events.

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