Yes, China is racing ahead with technology, but when it comes to the Chinese New Year its not all about screens and Wechat promotions ! This is the time brands try to reach out and connect with consumers on an emotional level, communicating around deeply held Chinese cultural values like filial piety, connection between generations and the reunion of families. Moreover, the fragmentation of the Chinese media scene in recent years away from the formerly ubiquitous Spring Festival Gala on state-run China Central Television network, (CCTV), allows for greater creativity and story telling outside the 30’’ format TV ad.
One such spot that has been wildly trending on social media (achieving 37 M views on Weibo) is an Apple ad called “three minutes”. This emotional tale of a holiday reunion between a mother and son at a train station in China is shot with the iPhone X camera. The phone itself does not feature in the spot, the focus instead being placed entirely on the precious family memories captured with it.
Said to be based on a true story, the film is about a mother who has to work aboard a train during the Spring festival, making a six-day journey across China. The train briefly stops in her town, where she gets to reunite with her son for three minutes. As the clock ticks, the boy recites his multiplication tables, to show how hard he's been working in her absence. They only have time for a hug before the train takes off again.
While trains and travel are a constant theme of ads during the Spring Festival, a time when people from all over China return to their hometowns, Apple is also acknowledging a current trend of people working away from home, and is honouring the self sacrifice and determination of those who enable others to celebrate the holiday with their families.
Nokia, meanwhile, encourages people “to be the gift” for Chinese New Year. In the story the brand tells, it is the son who works far from home, acting in a period drama on a set in a remote and cold part of the country. His mother discovers that he had left his favorite winter coat at home, and travels to surprise him on set with the coat, a home-cooked meal and most importantly, the gift of her presence during Chinese New Year. Once again, the phone only features lightly in the spot, as the means by which mother and son stay in touch. What is celebrated is grit and dedication, of the son to his work and of the mother to her son.
Determination and self-belief are also at the heart of KFC’s ‘Wild Brothers’, depicting a famous film director travelling back in time on Chinese New Year to his own humble beginnings in the 90’ s. He offers his younger self some words of advice, and is in turn reminded how important it is to keep striving forward and taking chances in the present.
Clearly, it is important for brands developing in China to keep their finger on the pulse of the national mood. At this time of material plenty many in China seem to pause and look back with some nostalgia to simpler times and humble beginnings. They also yearn for the human relationships that have become complicated or simply fallen by the wayside in the pursuit of material gains. Positioning brands as standing by people and accompanying them to emotional victories is clearly resonating more than the “channel to success and wealth” of yesteryear.