It all started one day four years ago when Canto-pop idol Leon Lai Ming became one of the first singers to sign on to endorse a product. The commercial he 'starred' in was for a local paging service and the 'theme song' I Miss You Everyday became one of the most popular songs of the year. It did not take long for it to dawn on the rest of the music industry that this could be a novel way to promote their artists. Now this collaboration is becoming the latest vehicle for singers to increase their public exposure. 'It isn't difficult to understand,' said award-winning composer Mark Lui Chung-tak, who wrote the hit songs Unspeakable Love Song and Wind Flower Snow for Leon Lai and Kelly Chan Wai-lum's new commercials. 'It is obvious that there are fewer channels for the artists to promote their songs than before. If you take a look at the television or listen to the radio, you will realise there are not many musical programmes. 'So a new way for artists to plug their songs to the general public is to have tie-ins with commercial products which will air on TV.' After Lai's success, other local artists have tripped over themselves to follow in his footsteps. The most successful examples have been Kelly Chan's credit card commercial, Sammi Cheng Sau-man's portable compact disc player advertisement, Ekin Cheng's support for a computer mall, Karen Tong Bo-yu's endorsement of a cold medicine, Emil Chow Wah-kin's advert for a jewellery shop and, most recently, top singer Jacky Cheung Hok-yau's appearance in a television set commercial. This kind of tie-in has long been a common practice in the Japanese music industry, according to Lui. The reason why local artists have adapted to it was because of a change in attitude, he said. 'In the past, big names would not consider showing their faces on TV commercials because they were reluctant to be associated with any product in case it made them look 'cheap' in some way. Nowadays they are not as picky,' Lui said. In Hong Kong, Polygram has been one of the most active record companies in matching its artists with commercial products. General manager Alvin Wang admitted the company was looking at this collaboration as a way for artists to promote their songs. 'As watching television is still the main entertainment for the general public, this is the best way for us to promote our songs, especially when everybody knows that there are limited opportunities for the artists to sing their songs in public,' said Mr Wang. 'The keen competition within the music industry has spurred the artists to grab every opportunity. Making a commercial is definitely one of the best ways [to promote themselves].' Lui agreed: 'If the number of new artists increases gradually, singers will find it very difficult to promote their music. This certainly will have a bad effect to the sales of their albums.' In order to protect an artist's image, Mr Wang said that the record company would only consider those products which had a positive image. 'Basically when an advertising agency approaches us, we consider whether the product is good or not,' he said. 'We do not want our artists to endorse the 'wrong' kind of product. 'We seek approval from our artists and make sure they are interested in the commercial before we listen to the presentation and make sure the outcome of the commercial is good and of a high quality,' he said. Even though the collaboration between advertisers and record companies will increase people's awareness of a song on television, radio executives denied it would have much effect on how much airplay they gave it. Anna Yau Oi-man, executive producer of Hit Radio, said there was no direct relationship between the song's allotted airplay and its commercial. 'It may be true that this collaboration would bring us some attractions. 'But whether we play the song or not depends on the quality of the song and the record company's strategy. 'For example, if the promotion people tell us that the song will be the single from the album, we will listen to it more carefully. 'But we would not promise that we would play the song because of the commercial back-up.' Ms Yau said a commercial tie-in with a song worked best for lesser-known artists. 'If the artist is of the top level, then the product or the advertiser would gain more benefit from the collaboration. 'If the artist is a newcomer, then he or she would gain more benefits than the product itself. 'The success story of Kelly [Chan] is one of the best examples. 'When she first made her appearance on the credit card commercial, people just noticed that it was a commercial with a pretty face on screen. 'They would not pay attention to the commercial because of the new face. 'But after Kelly became a popular singer and she made other commercials for the same product, the audience paid more attention to her.' Some have speculated that the combined clout of advertisers and record firms has allowed them to win more generous airplay for their products and songs. A recent example might be Jacky Cheung who, after more than 10 years, finally won an award for most popular singer from TVB. Critics have suggested that the reason might well have been his television commercials, although the parties concerned have denied this. 'I do not think that we have the power to control the media,' Wang said. 'I believe that the media people are professional enough to make a right decision. 'If the song is good, then no matter what they will still pick the song to play. 'If the song is not good enough, then no matter how much you spend on media placement, no one will play the song for you.' Lui, Wang and Yau all believe that more Canto-pop artists will gravitate towards product endorsements. Lui said: 'I believe the trend will continue because all parties involved benefit. 'For example, the product will be more popular and sales will increase. 'The artists may enjoy more exposure of their songs. On the part of the record company, it can save a lot of money in promotion and advertising because the advertiser pays for it. 'The audience can see the faces of their idols on TV and enjoy high quality commercials. For us as songwriters, we get paid extra for the song as it has been used for a commercial. 'If no one gets hurt and this idea is good for everybody, why should we give it up?' The entertainment pages are edited by Winnie Chung. Tel: 2565-2216; fax: 2562 2485.