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TCL Turns to Iron Man for an Intro to the U.S. Market

The Chinese electronics firm sees Hollywood as the best conduit for its global marketing dollars

If done well, a promotional partnership with a major summer movie should spotlight a company’s products — in most cases, cars, clothes
and junk food. It worked for Aston Martin and James Bond, Ray-Ban and “Men in Black,” Chevy’s Camaro and “Transformers.”

(From the pages of the April 9 issue of Variety.)

Now TCL is looking for the same halo effect next month from a tie-in with Marvel Studios’ “Iron Man 3.”

The Chinese electronics manufacturer — the initials stand for The Creative Life — is showing off its, well, creative side as it looks to compete against better-known rivals like Sony, Samsung and LG, with flatscreen TVs and cellphones aimed at the budget-conscious.

After brokering a $5 million, 10-year pact in January to have its brand name replace Grauman’s as the proprietary name of the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, TCL believes high-profile tie-ins with tentpoles will get its moniker in front of consumers around the globe.

As a hardware maker, TCL isn’t new to the U.S., but its initials are virtually unknown to shoppers. With products previously sold under the Alcatel and RCA brand names Stateside, TCL is now looking to build a self-branded business. The company sees the U.S. as its next big market, and believes films like “Iron Man 3” represent the first steps toward planting its flag here.

“An image of a TCL television in a globally distributed film translates well across all languages and geographies,” according to Michelle Mao, president of TCL USA. “With a global company such as ours, it is important to leverage assets with worldwide applicability.”

Given the rabid attention Marvel’s superheroes command, pairing up with Iron Man might not be a bad move, especially as the company seeks the attention of younger shoppers.

But then what?

TCL’s devices aren’t readily available inside most big-box retailers like Target, Walmart or Best Buy. Instead, it relies on smaller retailers like Nebraska Furniture Mart, Vann’s or e-tailers Amazon and Costco to sell its wares.

And while its smartphones and Ultra HD China Star 3D TV will be seen in “Iron Man 3,” you’ll have to squint to notice them; on film, TCL’s white-lettered logo struggles to stand out, especially to consumers unfamiliar with the brand.

The company may want to consider embracing a flashier symbol if it wants to build buzz — the way Coldstone Creamery embraced a brighter logo and redesigned its packaging when it started growing its product placement deals nearly a decade ago.

TCL has wound up being overshadowed in past campaigns. Its placement in “The Avengers” went largely unnoticed; its TVs appeared in Paramount’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” but struggled for attention against the shiny new computers from fellow Chinese brand Lenovo, which also used the film to kick off a worldwide expansion.

That kind of mixed message likely won’t happen with “Iron Man 3,” however. TCL will serve as “Iron Man 3’s” exclusive technology partner, guaranteeing a bigger spotlight — something the world’s fourth largest TV maker badly wants. With China getting its own cut of “Iron Man 3,” featuring additional footage that won’t be shown in the U.S., TCL also could wind up getting even more exposure in its home country. Audi, Verizon Fios and Red Baron pizza also are promo partners on the pic, as is, ironically, phone-service provider Alcatel.

TCL already threw itself a coming-out party of sorts by hosting a huge booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. In addition, the company is said to be spending north of $10 million on placement fees and marketing for a national ad campaign, which will lean largely on digital media. “More people get their news and information from peers and trusted sources using digital means rather than traditional,” Mao said.

One thing’s clear: Given the brand’s acronym, it’s not likely TCL will give up on entertainment tie-ins anytime soon.

“TCL sees the global entertainment industry as one of the definitive mediums in today’s society that enhances the lives of people around the world,” Mao maintained. “We will continue to expand upon our growing relationship with Hollywood.”

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