Tourists visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame will need to get used to a new name at an old landmark. The Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, home to all those handprints immortalized in cement, is now the TCL Chinese Theatre, following a deal the Chinese electronics company made last week with the Grauman’s owners. Based in southern China, TCL (000100:CH) makes phones, televisions, and other gadgets and is one of the top Chinese consumer-electronics companies.
It’s been a busy month for Tomson Li, TCL’s chairman and co-founder. After closing the Chinese Theatre deal, Li went to the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to show off new TCL products. And he announced a deal to secure placement of his company’s products in the next installment of Iron Man, the Robert Downey Jr. franchise from Paramount Pictures (VIAB).
“I believe our new generation of products are as good as those from Samsung (005930:KS) and Apple (AAPL),” Li told Bloomberg News at CES. “This Iron Man cooperation is very useful for us to promote the TCL brand in the global market, including the U.S. and China.”
TCL is one of several Chinese companies attempting to boost their profile via product placement. Along with milk from Yili Shu Hua, fashion by Metersbonwe, and Lenovo’s (992:HK) computers, TCL’s products also appeared in the 2011 blockbuster Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
Not exactly household names—with the exception of Lenovo. But American consumers are likely to become more familiar with these companies. “Increasingly, we are going to see these hugely successful enterprises out of China becoming more visible and attracting more consumer attention in the U.S.,” says Janet De Silva, Asia dean in Hong Kong of the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business. “They are intently focused on making that transformation from being a successful Chinese company to being a successful international brand that just happens to be headquartered in China.”
For Chinese companies like TCL and Lenovo that are trying to compete with Apple and Samsung, going Hollywood is a way to boost their profile on both sides of the Pacific with young consumers who want cool brands. Lifting Lenovo’s profile through movies and sports is an important way to reach consumers not just in the U.S., but back in China, according to David Roman, the company’s chief marketing officer. “A college student in China probably has more in common in terms of entertainment, information, cultural references with a college student in the U.S. than with his or her parents in China,” Roman told me in an interview in November. “They are basically watching the same things.”
The Chinese government is in on this trend, too. CCTV, the official government television network, last year set up a new English-language channel, CCTV America. The year before, the Xinhua News Agency caused a stir by displaying a 60-second video in New York’s Times Square and opening a new U.S. headquarters there. At the opening ceremony, Chinese United Nations Ambassador Li Baodong said the new office “lays a solid foundation for Xinhua News Agency to further lift its profile, competitiveness, and communication capabilities.”