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Brands hijack Shang-Chi actor's past stock images on social media

Brands hijack Shang-Chi actor's past stock images on social media

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Several brands in Singapore were quick to trendjack actor Simu Liu's past stock images in a witty attempt to showcase its offerings. This comes after Liu was reported to have previously modelled for stock images in 2014, prior to his roles in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as well as Kim's Convenience. Since then, stock images of Liu from the past have flooded the Internet once again, and Liu even tweeted one of his stock images as a response to individuals who thought the latest Shang-Chi movie would flop. Here's how the brands got creative with Liu's stock images.

Burger King Singapore

Burger King Singapore jumped on the stock image hype to showcase the power of its rings. The fast-food joint posted a meme on Facebook of 10 onion rings along with a stock image of Liu smiling and dancing, with the caption "The best ten rings you can ever have." This was done by Tribal Worldwide Singapore.


Gilette used two stock photos of Liu in a discussion with his colleagues to advertise its "Heated Razor by GiletteLabs". In an Instagram story, Gilette caption the pictures: "The best a stock model can be" and "A marvellous transformation starts with a clean shave." This was done by VaynerMedia Asia Pacific.

simu liu gilette

Paya Lebar Quarter

Paya Lebar Quarter (PLQ) decided to get people going to Shaw Theatres in its mall using one of Liu's stock image photos. The photo, which was posted on PLQ's Facebook, shows him pointing at a laptop screen, which PLQ then captioned, "See? I told you it’s easier to get to PLQ than to the Village of Ta Lo," referencing to the film itself.

Singapore Cyber Security Agency of Singapore

The hype over Liu's stock images saw the Singapore Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) join the foray as well. In a Facebook post, CSA posted a stock image of Liu dancing and a movie still of Liu as Shang-Chi side by side. The post then captioned: "The anti-virus you haven't updated" on the stock image and "Your updated anti-virus" on the movie still. The post was a bid by CSA to encourage users to stay up-to-date with their anti-virus software to prevent malware attacks.

Viu Singapore

Streaming platform Viu used a stock image of Liu in a dance routine to promote the Korean variety show Street Woman Fighter currently streaming on its platform. The Facebook post showed a still from the show along with Liu's stock image to convey an "expectations versus reality" scenario. The photo captioned "How I think I dance" on the still and "How I actually dance" on the stock image. This was done by Tribal Worldwide Singapore.

Carousell Hong Kong

Consumer marketplace Carousell used a stock image of Liu in a dance routine on its platform in Hong Kong. The Carousell banner used the stock image with the caption "Weekend picks: C'est la vie".

carousell shang chi

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Separately, BMW's product placement in Shang-Chi did not go unnoticed. The automotive brand roared to life by featuring the BMW iX3 and while the company declined to comment on the monetary value of the product placement, BMW Asia's marketing director, Daren Ching, said the objective of this initiative and every product placement for BMW in films is to build brand affinity and raise awareness of featured models. The brand also wanted to use this opportunity to highlight the design, performance and technology features.

Although BMW is unable to quantify the global ROI at the moment given that the movie only launched two weeks ago, Ching said it hopes to increase awareness for its featured models locally. They include the BMW iX3 and the BMW M8 competition and eventually drive sales. This marks the next installment in BMW’s collaboration with Marvel Studios following the BMW X3 and BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé appearing in Black Widow earlier this year.

Shang-Chi has been crushing the box office globally and according to Reuters, it raked in US$90 million during the first four days of its release in the US. It also grossed US$4.75 million during the opening weekend in South Korea, according to Variety. Meanwhile, other media reports also said that Shang-Chi raked in US$1.9 million over the weekend since its launch on 1 September, clinching the top movie spot in Singapore. According to Meltwater, the number of online mentions for Shang-Chi since its launch jumped by 168% to 36,700, compared to the previous period. Most of the chatter came from Twitter, which had 35,500 conversations. On 5 September, #ShangChi had about 78.7k tweets in Singapore while Tony Leung had 3,687.

The pandemic has led to tighter restrictions around cinema operations. Singapore, for example, set aside halls for fully-vaccinated patrons last month. Last week, cinemas in Malaysia were allowed to reopen in all states. However, cinema operators including GSC Cinemas were cautious about reopening immediately. These restrictions and the cautious reopening bring about the question of the value of product placements in movies. 

Ryan De Joya, strategy lead, media group, dentsu Singapore said there is still great value in cinema product placements. Aside from the rising theatre footfall brought about by eased local regulations coupled with audience appetite for escapism, consider that films are also timeless in that platform distribution, pass-on viewership, and re-watch potential are limitless, and the same goes for the associated product placement.

Also, fame is one of the widely accepted levers for marketing effectiveness and there is no better way to drive fame for a brand by aligning with tentpole films with massive buzz potential, he said, adding:

The bigger task will be in ensuring that value unlocked from the product placement is being fully maximised to deliver better mental availability for the brand.

To do so, brands can consider incorporating partnerships to dial up brand’s distinctiveness, taking advantage of the fame generated by evoking memories or emotions of the placement, especially in moments where consumers are going into a buying mindset for the brand.

Also agreeing with him is MD of MediaCom Malaysia, Saurabh Chandrashekhar, who explained that product integrations have the impact of being programmed into the viewer considering the deep attention they gain; citing how news channels often integrate well into movies as a source of breaking news. 

He added that the nature of movie consumption has been changing even before the pandemic, as seen in many movies being released on streaming platforms. "This provides longevity to the products integrated into the movie script.," Chandrashekhar added.

However, Jocelyn Tse, chief strategy officer at UM China, said that while placement in block busters create excitement and visibility, placement in TV drives relevance; as it shows viewers how the products fit in their everyday lives. She cited the exponential growth in TV placements and sponsorships in China.

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Are prices for product placements being adjusted?

At the same time, product placement deals now encompass broader exposure as part of the film’s promotion plan, Chandrashekhar said. When it comes to pricing, adjustments always happen as a function of demand and supply. However due to the proliferation of social media and streaming platforms, he said the value that a product placement yields goes far beyond just the few seconds of exposure during the film. 

On the other hand, De Joya said a common misconception about product placement is that brands need to pay a fortune to warrant an appearance on the silver screen. "In many cases, a barter system is used instead where brands loan props to film studios at no cost in exchange for film exposure," he explained. That said, Kian Fong Wong, head of UM Studios China, said that product placements are becoming more costly in China. However, since 2018, Wong said product placements in movies only represent a small part of the total content investment, in comparison to online content. He attributed this to the rising popularity of streaming platforms which offer an array of series and entertainment shows. 

The streaming market is currently cluttered with several platforms from Netflix and Disney+ to iQIYI, Viu and Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video. Streaming investments have also become popular among brands. According to a SpotX report done earlier this year, 47% of brands had planned to increase OTT spend in Southeast Asia between 10% to 20% through to May this year. Meanwhile, Magna predicted this year that video ads will grow by +24% to US$57 billion globally as short-form, long-form AVOD and OTT ad spend are all fueled by increased reach and viewing.

The growth in streaming opens up a possibility for more product placements to shift to such platforms instead of being limited to large-scale theatre releases. UM China's chief strategy officer Jocelyn Tse explained that while placement in block busters create excitement and visibility, placement in TV drives relevance. "This is because it shows viewers how the products fit in their everyday lives," she said, adding that there has been exponential growth in TV placements and sponsorships in China.

Meanwhile, although TV and cinema product placement is not a new concept, De Joya said what has changed is the way these content pieces have been distributed as a result of the emergence of OTT streaming services.

Although advertising opportunities within OTTs have so far been sporadic, there are signs of a possible shift towards these platforms.

"Disney+ has started to add paid product placement warnings to some of its recent titles, while Apple TV+ sparked intense speculation among fans about a highly anticipated new smartphone model when it was believed to be sighted in one of its streaming series," denstu's De Joya explained. He added that the talkability and earned media coverage seen in the latter typically only happens for viral content, and he expects this to inspire other OTTs to be even more forthcoming with strategic brand and product placements.

Agreeing with De Joya, Ramakrishnan C.N., partner at Entropia Group, said that brand associations with movies and TV series will continue to increase as it is a clear sign from the past year that the appetite for fresh content continues unabated due to the steady increase in the accessibility to streaming globally. "It is increasingly getting clear is that the future of shopping will be on Amazon Prime, Netflix, Disney+, and AppleTV+. As they have the power to bring the brand, the context, and the sales pitch all together exactly they have the full attention of the potential shopper and a means to capture the intent on the spot," he added.

Meanwhile, Chandrashekhar said that the growth of subscription-based content will naturally create space for brands to find seamless opportunities for integration into content. "The advent of technology that allows for product placement, post-production, will create opportunities for a host of product categories that have stayed out of this domain," he said.

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