The primetime special built around Johnny Depp‘s two-day China promotional tour for Transcendence aired locally Thursday night on ZheJiangTV, a national network that reaches about 1.2 billion people. With an average nightly audience of about 200 million, it would be fair to say that a lot more Chinese are familiar with Wally Pfister’s directorial debut than they may have been otherwise. The event is part of a growing belief that marketing directly to China pays off. It was reminiscent of last year’s Iron Man 3 gala that put Robert Downey Jr front and center and was also organized by DMG Entertainment. That worked out well for Iron Man 3, and a similar effect is hoped for here.
The Transcendence special was meant to be entertaining, but also had a very targeted agenda. I’m told much of the content was geared towards the audience better understanding what the film is about, and the science and technology behind it. The live audience at the events taped in late March saw Depp learn some Mandarin, share the stage with Chinese actors like Wu Xiu Bo and Wu Bing, and jam with with rocker David Tao. Singaporean pop star JJ Lin also performed a tribute to Depp singing a song from Sweeney Todd. Such efforts, it’s said, allow the local audience to identify further with the film and its star. The special will be repeated in primetime on Friday night.
Think that sort of thing could ever be repeated in the U.S.? Here’s the promo that aired on Chinese television ahead of Thursday’s special: