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Pepsi, Dove & KFC’s Chinese New Year Ad Wars: Effective? How can advertisements make an emotional connection with the audience, while innovation on what has come before?

admin 2018-02-12 Collect


%e7%99%be%e4%ba%8b1Does anyone remember the 2017 collaboration between DiDi Taxi and the Rainbow Chamber Singers for a Chinese New Year commercial, “New Year Self-Help Guide: Coming Home?”

This year, advertisers used a different strategy: sensationalism.

At midnight on November 2nd, 2017, China Merchants Bank’s “Tomatoes & Stir-fried Egg” story successfully dominated everyone’s social media feeds, becoming one of the most successful advertising dark horses of the year. Other advertisers took inspiration from this success story and applied similar elements to their own spots.

Before Peter Chan collaborated with Apple to create “Three Minutes”, a short film that was exclusively shot on the iPhone X, there had been already hundreds of ads depicting themes of family reunion and love: Budweiser’s 2018 Chinese New Year campaign film, “Marathon;” Taobao’s “Let’s Treat Parents Better;” Pepsi’s “Hip Hop Parents;” Nestle’s “We Wait for Your in Our Nest,” just to name a few. KFC, Haier Refrigerators, Vivo are also among those who infused these elements.

To most people in China, Lunar New Year is an annual celebration that they love and hate at the same time. For brands, this is the busiest time of the year. This is especially true for fast-moving consumer goods companies, as this may be the most important time to run a successful promotional campaign. Many companies would partner with advertising agencies months in advance to brainstorm the best strategy for Chinese New Year commercials.

Companies attempt to incorporate their brands’ message into themes that many of us can relate to: family, aspiration, and career. From a marketing standpoint, this type of sensational promotion creates a resonance among the target audience, allowing them to form an emotional connection with the brand, and therefore the company.

There has been an increasing portion of the younger generation that are leaving their hometowns to go to large cities in search of a good job opportunity, and as a result, the aging parent generation is often left alone at home, far away from their children. According to the State Council, by 2020, there will be more than 255 million people over the age of 60, out of which 1.18 will be among those “empty-nested” parents. The parents’ pain of being separated from their children has become a major point of exploitation for advertisers.

A good campaign not only markets the product but more importantly, connects with consumers on a deeper level.

As these types of commercials slowly became a trend, however, the audience is slowly developing “immunity.” It is becoming increasingly hard to move the viewer in such a short time span of a commercial. The mass promotion through various media and social channels is just “routine” for most of them now.

That said, why don’t we take a look at this year’s commercials?

Pepsi: Bridging the Generation Gap

Every year, Pepsi’s Chinese New Year campaign wows us with a well-written short film.

In 2016, Pepsi invited Liu Xiao Ling Tong, the actor that portrayed the Monkey King in the popular TV series, Journey to the West. They based the film on his true life story, bringing many viewers to tears. In 2017, the film took inspiration from a famous sitcom, Home with Kids, to tell a story about family reunions. In 2018, Pepsi put the emphasis on the dreams and understanding between the two generations.

“I have my dream; I have my goals.” Through elements like hip-hop, break dance, Michael Jackson, the father and son duo were able to truly get to know each other, which is what Pepsi set out to accomplish with the ad.


In the first part, Jackson Wang sings, “No one understands me. They won’t even try. We are different.”


In the second scene, Wang says to himself, “Well, my dad used to be young, too. He probably had dreams. It’s my fault for not understanding him. I’m being selfish all along.”


In the final scene, various celebrities look at the camera seeking to inspire the younger generation.

Deng Chao says, “‘Are you wearing thermals? You’re gonna catch a cold!’ Just a couple words might sound like torture to you.”

Zhou Dongyu says, “You don’t like to listen to your parents, but you miss home when you’re not doing so well on your own. You smile to strangers but acts grumpy in front of your family.”

Zhang Yishan says, “You think you’re the center of the universe, and that you can do anything you want, but reality says otherwise. Your parents are the only one that will support you no matter what.”

It’s also worth mentioning that 2018 would be Michael Jackson’s 60th birthday. In 1984, MJ actually starred in a Pepsi commercial, and in Pepsi’s 2018 Chinese New Year film, they seem to be paying homage to the King of Pop. Deng Chao’s styling, his dance duel with Zhang Yishan, and the setup of many scenes are all every so similar to the music video for Beat It. The nostalgia factor seems to be favorite of Pepsi’s–just look at the 2018 Super Bowl commercial that featured MJ and Britney Spears.

KFC: From Cassettes to Playlists

For those born after 1975, their teenage years could be best represented by Xiao Hu Dui, and for the millennials, TF Boys probably represents their adolescence better. KFC takes us through 1988 to 2018, showing respect to how the times have changed.

This year, the fast-food chain interprets Xiao Hu Dui’s classic single, “Love,” with pop culture icons of two generations and through scenes of changing times, to awaken the memory of their teenage years.


In the beginning, the father reads a newspaper while the son animatedly sings Xiao Hu Dui’s “Love;” in the next scene, the two engage in a snowball fight; in the third scene, the cassette morphs into a playlist, and the time fast forwards to present, as TF Boys goes on stage to perform the same song. The final scene shows the son grown up as a father, and the year shows 2018, completing the 30-year transition.

In conjunction, KFC also launched a trending topic, “Your first KFC,” on social media. This move hopes to enable customers to recollect their memories of when the western fast food chain first entered China, creating a stronger emotional connection with the brand.

Actor Huang Bo also shot a ten-minute short for KFC, named “Crazy Brothers.”


Continuing the theme of generation transitions, Huang Bo carries a “bucket of gold” as he walks through a crowded market. The scene suddenly changes to a Chinese New Year gala in 1994, where young Huang Bo, as a member of the “Blue Sandstorm Group,” performs a dancing routine by Michael Jackson, and tears his pants from the crotch. Huang Bo from the future then walks up to the younger version of himself and started a dialogue.

“Have you ever thought about what you’ll become?” The background music is Zhao Chuan’s “I’m a Little Bird,” which works well with the commercial’s message that the younger generation should have more confidence in them, even if they’re not currently living their best life.

Dove: Dove Together, Luck Forever

Dove released a commercial starring Ma Sichun. Continuing last year’s “heart-warming” tradition, the film tells a story of a daughter struggling in life, turning to the support of her family, and using Dove as a way of saying thanks.

The beginning shows a pair of hands playing the piano, transitioning to the daughter, Hua Hua, played by Ma, stopping the playing to take a phone call. “Hi, Mr. Li. I’ve finished my composition and I want you to hear it. I want to play it for you in person, so can I maybe borrow ten minutes of your time?” The father, seeing the daughter running out on Chinese New Year’s Eve, feels quite lonely.

The father thinks (out loud), “I’m afraid of New Years, not because I’m afraid of getting old but rather afraid of you being farther away from us. We used to be your world, but now, we’re only part of it.”

The daughter: “Dad, I’m already grown up, and I want to work towards my dream so you and mom can be proud of me. It’s a big world out here, and my dream is still a long way to go, but having a family makes me happy always.”

After seeing these examples, what are your thoughts on advertisers exploiting the sentimental part of consumers? How can they innovate on what has already been done?

Translated by Kane Ge

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