Filming is expected to begin within weeks for a McDonald's advertising campaign featuring Yao Ming (姚明) which could be beamed across China as early as May, the company said yesterday.
The basketball superstar from Shanghai -- who signed a promotional deal with the fast food company last month -- is taking time out of his National Basketball Association (NBA) schedule to film the advertisements which will form part of a global promotion.
Yao, who plays for the NBA's Houston Rockets, is also expected to promote McDonald's in China when he visits Shanghai in October, the company said.
Marina Leung Lai-shan, senior director for corporate communications with the Hong Kong-based McDonald's China Development Company, said the global campaign featuring Yao could be launched sometime before June.
She said filming of the commercials would be done in the US because of Yao's NBA commitments and that it would be carried out soon.
While exact details of what Yao will do in the promotional campaign are a closely guarded secret, he is expected to promote the company's current drive to be associated with healthy lifestyles.
Leung said McDonald's, which now has 580 restaurants in China, aimed to open around 100 new restaurants in the course of this year. The long-term goal is to have 1,000 McDonald's in China by the time Beijing hosts the Olympics in 2008, making China one of the company's biggest growth markets.
Leung said the fast food chain had chosen Yao as its ambassador because of his healthy lifestyle.
He is a down to earth person, personable and eager to learn, and hard working and committed, she said.
McDonald's forged a relationship with the basketball star last year when he returned to his home city during the SARS outbreak and took part in a charity telethon to raise money for victims. McDonald's donated US$50,000.
She said Yao would definitely be coming to Shanghai in October and it was likely he would do promotional work for McDonald's then but details were still being worked out. We are trying to work around this, Leung said.
David Morita, senior marketing director of McDonald's Hong Kong, said: "McDonald's Hong Kong will be using Yao Ming in our advertising campaigns. We are working on a few marketing ideas, but we just have not as yet made any decisions on how he will specifically fit in our marketing plan at this stage.
Yoa was named Chinas number one celebrity in a survey published last month by the US-based Forbes business magazine.