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Will TCL Theatre Mark A Branding Revolution?

Apparently, while many of us were admiring its expanded International CES booth, stuffed with 4K TVs, smartphones and tablets, TCL, the major Chinese TV manufacturer, was closing a deal to add its brand name to the iconic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.

TCL reportedly spent more than $5 million on the naming rights deal. The move marks a major marketing step for a Chinese company here in the United States, and a strategically important one, targeting, as it did, the heart of the content capital of the world.

Although TCL has been here for many years after first acquiring the RCA brand, it recently took a page out of the Philips book when the RCA license came up for renewal several years ago and began a concerted effort to promote TCL in the global marketplace.

TCL chairman Li Dongsheng told TWICE in an interview before the 2012 International CES that Chinese companies are now beginning to realize that to achieve a competitive standing among the market share leaders, they will need to make their names better known to Western consumers.

But lavish spending on marketing and ad campaigns, like those that made Samsung into a superpower, will make it difficult to sell products with razor thin margins to increasing frugal audiences.

It appears unlikely that a TCL, Hisense, Haier or AmTran will look to top the Korean brands in ad spending anytime soon. Rather, we expect TCL, Haier and others will continue to pinpoint their messages on strategic locations, venues and events — like a Chinese theatre or “Iron Man” movie for example — to bring the most bang for the buck.

Still, it seems to this reporter a little more than coincidence that this new Western marketing approach among the Chinese comes just as the once-prominent Japanese CE companies are mired in a seemingly endless cycle of annual profit losses. And, for their part, a number of the Japanese companies at CES spoke about businesses outside of TV or CE altogether for their next marketing initiatives.

Are we witnessing the beginning of a changing of the CE guard? And if so, will it rival the change that saw once-prominent U.S. TV brands like Admiral and Quasar give way to the then new Japanese interests back in the ’60s? Time will tell.