If a picture tells a thousand words, how about a video?
Lunar New Year is one of the most significant festival periods on the calendar for Chinese people. Whether they be living in Mainland China or in diaspora communities around the world, they traditionally treat this as the most important time of year to return home for celebrations with family.
China’s domestic consumption rebounded well last year in spite of COVID-19, but this festive season will be celebrated differently due to travel restrictions. Following the government’s advice against travel, most Chinese will be staying put in their resident city rather than heading back to their hometowns.
Given that Chinese New Year is normally the largest annual human migration in the world, it’s no wonder that Mark Wang, CEO of Edelman China, sees celebrating in ‘resident cities’ rather than hometowns as the key difference between the 2021 festival and previous years. Wang says this homesickness amongst Chinese is driving increased use of entertainment platforms and ‘online festivals.’
While consumers are still highly receptive to effective Chinese New Year marketing campaigns, the tone of advertising this year has shifted from loud marketing, to empathising with the difficult emotions that people are dealing with during these unprecedented circumstances. Coming out of a challenging 2020, Wang says:
“(Marketing) Messages that resonate with consumers include those that: acknowledge the feelings of homesickness; missing one’s parents/extended family and the act of travelling back to their hometown; the importance of relaxing after an unusually tough year; and welcoming the new year with a smaller circle of friends or immediate family.”
For any brand looking to do business with China in 2021, it’s useful to consider what success looks like when it comes to Chinese New Year marketing campaigns. We watched and analysed some of the most viral Chinese New Year videos from the past year to help you with creative ideas for advertising in 2021.
Here are examples from four of the top global brands, and a breakdown of their campaign performance on China’s most popular video platforms Tencent Video.
Title of video: Shot on iPhone 12 Pro Max l Chinese New Year – Nian
Date published: 29 January 2021
Duration of video: 11:57 minutes
Number of views on Tencent Video: 23.672 million
Chinese culture insights: Close intergenerational bonds within the family; Coming together to celebrate the CNY festival
Relevance of campaign to Chinese New Year (CNY): The fable of ‘Nian’ is directly linked to CNY. It is the reason why families set off fireworks. Shows typical CNY celebrations – having a meal with family, watching lion dancing.
Other possible reasons for the video’s success: Director of the short film is Lulu Wang, the director of a 2020 Global Globes Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. Video is emotive and plays on the nostalgia of Chinese audiences by bringing to life a well-known childhood story, and reimagining or questioning the meaning behind it. Product being advertised isn’t physically shown anywhere in the film – it is only mentioned in title. Emphasis is on the campaign’s memorability, rather than pushing sales of the product.
Unexpected twist to the traditional: ‘Nian’ story, with a happy ending and deeper life lesson in the campaign. Colours of the film are not the saturated bright reds, which brand frequently use in trying to keep up with the concept of loud and colourful festivals.
Memorable quotes: “Every new year, we set off all these fireworks. Is it really to scare off the monsters? Or to light up the dark night sky and all the places we want to go?”
Watch the video inside the Great Firewall: https://v.qq.com/x/cover/mzc00200so042g6/k0035cfup2x.html
Title of video: Burberry Chinese New Year | A New Awakening
Date published: 18 January 2021
Duration of video: 06:35 minutes
Number of views on Tencent Video: 6.957 million
Chinese culture insights: Filial piety; Close family ties
Relevance of campaign to Chinese New Year (CNY): Red paper CNY cut-outs stuck on windows; Product placement of new Burberry clothing which includes bull image in recognition of the Year of the Ox zodiac in 2021.
Other possible reasons for the video’s success: Beautiful cinematic footage. Thought-provoking storytelling which is relatable for viewers – likening the ups and downs, or seasons, of life
Memorable quotes: “What have I smelled? The drizzles of winter, the sweat of summer, the languor of spring and the romance of autumn.”
“But the most memorable scent will forever be grandpa’s, grandma’s, dad’s, mom’s, my family’s (scent). The unrivalled scent.”
Watch the video inside the Great Firewall: https://v.qq.com/x/cover/mzc00200uas8oj4/w0035wqh955.html
Title of video: Lunar New Year: The Great Chase | Nike
Date published: 15 January 2020
Duration of video: 01:30 minutes
Number of views on Tencent Video: 3.273 million
Chinese culture insights: Filial piety; Close family ties
Relevance of campaign to Chinese New Year (CNY): Children receive red envelopes from relatives growing up, and are expected to give red envelopes once they are married and have children. Showing annual family reunion and mealtime festivities for CNY. Demonstrating the humorous side of one of the most important traditions of CNY – giving and receiving red envelopes.
Other possible reasons for the video’s success: Clever product placement – Nike trainers are integral to the joke of trying to outrun the family member who is attempting to gift a red-envelope. Showing China’s transformation over the years in terms of fashion (trainers and clothing) and methods of gifting red envelope (physical envelope vs digital envelope, often sent over platforms like WeChat)
Memorable quotes: “Mom says I can’t accept it (the red envelope)”
“不客气”and “别客气” “You’re welcome” are the lyrics of the background music in the video
Watch the video inside the Great Firewall: https://v.qq.com/x/page/g3046d3axgc.html
Title of video: Gucci Chinese New Year Campaign: #Disney x Gucci
Date published: 4 January 2020
Duration of video: 01:00 minutes
Number of views on Tencent Video: Video not uploaded to Tencent
Chinese culture insights: No obvious references to China or Chinese culture
Relevance of campaign to Chinese New Year (CNY): No direct or obvious link to CNY
Other possible reasons for the video’s success: Video either shows expat Chinese character living abroad in a Western country or travelling there to celebrate the CNY break – travel, both international and domestic, is an increasingly popular way that younger Chinese are choosing to celebrate the festival. Demonstrating diversity. Happy vibes which represent the traditionally festive mood of CNY
Memorable quotes: No dialogue
Watch the video inside the Great Firewall: iQIYI https://www.iqiyi.com/v_19rwm8nkxs.html
The above Gucci and Nike advertisements were published in 2020, while Apple and Burberry’s are from 2021. However, it’s interesting to see that just because a video has been on the platform for many months, or has a high number of views, this does not necessarily translate into viewer engagement.
The most views on Chinese video platform iQIYI were racked up by Apple (23.692 million), followed by Burberry (6.957 million) and Nike (3.273 million). An increasing in viewership of the 2021 Chinese New Year video campaigns supports Edelman China CEO Mark Wang’s insight that entertainment platforms have seen an uptick due to consumers spending less time on travel.
Gucci’s 2020 Chinese New Year partnership with Disney is the earliest campaign published amongst those in the table. Although it has received almost ten times as many views on YouTube as Apple’s 2021 Chinese New Year campaign, Apple’s video about the legend of Nian has received more than five times as many likes.
The two video campaigns with the highest engagement were made by Apple and Nike, with 14K likes and 11K likes, in 2021 and 2020 respectively. Both emphasized the importance of subtle product placement and drawing in their audience through clever storytelling. While Apple used cinematic filming, nostalgia and a life lesson to promote their latest iPhone, Nike pulled in viewers with a hilarious storyline of a child trying to evade the red packet generosity of their aunt. The huge popularity of both of these campaigns proves that Chinese consumers are receptive to video campaigns that are longer and more serious (Apple’s video is 11:57 minutes), and campaigns which are shorter and light-hearted (Nike’s video is 01:30 minutes). Video length, content and tone should also be tailored to the brand’s target market age, interests and attention span, all of which is evident in the Nike and Apple videos in particular.
The Gucci video is also the only one of the four which has no dialogue. Each of the other videos include storytelling in Mandarin, with English subtitles.
First place (draw): Apple and Nike
Each of these two videos demonstrated tasteful, culturally sensitive and relevant references to China and Chinese traditions. The videos were memorable and thought-provoking, making them the kind of content that viewers would want to share with friends and family. In doing so, they naturally encourage positive word-of-mouth for their products and the brands’ understanding of Chinese consumers.
The link to Chinese New Year is also obvious and artistic in each of these two videos.
Second place: Burberry
Similar to Apple, Burberry focused on developing a cinematic video with a life lesson woven through its storytelling. Product placement was subtle, yet effective and directly linked to the Year of the Ox. Burberry was the only brand out of the four which referenced the relevant zodiac animal in its campaign.
Third place: Gucci
The positives in Gucci’s video include it being light-hearted, short, fun and colourful. However, there was no obvious link to Chinese New Year and the casting of actors in the video was heavily skewed towards representing a diverse group of cultural backgrounds, rather than focusing on actors with Chinese heritage. In doing so, it’s easy to mistake this video as being neither tailored to Chinese New Year nor to Chinese consumers. In spite of this, it has already gained over 3 million views on YouTube and positive engagement with comments and likes.
Marketing to China is complex and constantly evolving. One successful campaign does not equate to a lifetime of consumer brand loyalty. If you’re serious about doing business with China, we encourage you to take the time to do proper research into the tastes, preferences, needs and wants of your target market. And remember – Chinese New Year is just one of the many festivals which your brand can piggyback on to increase your sales amongst Chinese consumers.
Reach out to our team of friendly, highly experienced local and expat marketing consultancy experts to learn how we partner with businesses to help maximise your business results in China. We look forward to hearing from you!