CNY 2021

Reading Time: 6 minutes

February 12, is CNY 2021 (Chinese new year 2021); based on the lunar calendar. It is the year of the ox, the second animal in the Chinese zodiac cycle. It is celebrated by people of Chinese heritage around the world.

Some of the best creative in Asia comes out of the new year campaigns. Here are some of this years.

China spring festival adverts

I find it hard to find many good CNY 2021 adverts this year. Two consistent top performers are adidas and Apple.

adidas has an advert that’s part of an app-driven multi-channel experience. Hence why the call to action at the end of the ad is the app. App driven e-commerce by the big sports leisure apparel brands. Nike has the ‘Nike’ app and SNKRS aimed at streetwear fans. Some of the more exclusive shoes are only available to purchase on SNKRS.

adidas seems to be taking a similar line in China. The clothing presented is sports fashion in nature. adidas is also clever in the way it taps into Chinese culture with this app.

adidas used gamification tactics to improve digital engagement and strengthen the brand salience with target segments, especially sports and street culture fans.

The campaign consumer insights were:

  • Going beyond the Chinese New Year tradition of sharing wishes for good luck and good fortune. The brand took this in an engaging direction by showing audiences how they could honour their blessings and make wishes come true through their actions. This is something that that many Chinese take for granted
  • Many Chinese move back from the big city to smaller towns, the visuals of the ad draw on visual elements and atmosphere of a small town Chinese new year.

Apple has released a ‘Shot on an iPhone’ Chinese new year themed advert this year. This follows on from similar mini-movies that it has done in previous years by partnering with well known film makers. This year Apple turned to Chinese film maker Lulu Wang to reinterpret an old Chinese folk tale with a modern twist. The folk tale is related to Chinese new year celebrations.

Lulu Wang for Apple Inc. – Nian

And there is a making of the film here

Apple Inc.

Chinese video platform Kuaishou decided to make a Chinese new year film. (Kuaishou is a direct competitor to Douyin – the China specific version of TikTok.) The story was based on the real stories shared by Kuaishou users. The worked with film maker Jia Zhangke who had worked with Apple two years earlier on their Chinese new year film.

For those that would be normally travelling home at this time of year, the film given added poignancy, given China’s restrictions on travel over the Chinese new year period to try and combat resurgent COVID-19 outbreaks.

A honourable mention to H&M which I haven’t been able to find in a format to share online.

Hong Kong CNY 2021 adverts

The CNY 2021 themed ads are symptomatic of a couple of things:

  • Masks have established themselves as strong consumer brands. This has manifested itself in both retail presence and advertising
  • Budgets have been constrained by two years of economic declines, which explains some of ads low production values

Chinese new year revolves around food and indulgence rather like Thanksgiving or Christmas in the west. On Kee Dry Seafood Co., Ltd sell abalone and other delicacies. Given that Hong Kong has been in a recession even before COVID-19 – discretionary spend is under pressure.

On Kee Dry Seafood Co., Ltd

What surprised me about this advert how much it looked as if it has been shot in a studio (look at the ‘retail product range’ shots around the 14 second mark to see what I mean. But any firm that is investing in its brand during a recession deserves the respect of marketers.

Sun Shun Fuk Food Co. Ltd are a competitor to On Kee and have managed to come up with a shorter 15 second spot, but with higher production values. 15 second ads are hard, trying to get creative to land the messages in the creative and still have time for the brand compulsory pack shot and strap line on the end. I think they’ve done a good job with this.

Sun Shun Fuk Food Co. Ltd

HealthMe Plus put together a sub-30 second spot for its seasonal children’s masks. If you had asked me if this would have happened 12 months ago, I’d have said absolutely not. The effect of major brands like Solvay and 3M to meet consumer demand has allowed local champion mask brands to spring up.

The music takes me back to hearing The Chieftains in China album as a child. And more recently, when I’ve visited or lived in Hong Kong, the local supermarket muzak during the run up to Chinese new year.

McDonald’s Hong Kong innovate a lot more than their UK counterparts. A case in point being their Chinese new year menu with special burgers and curly fries. The Chinese new year menu features a Hello Kitty tie-in on packaging (and likely a soft toy giveaway, if you collect enough tokens). The 15-second spot isn’t anything special unless you’re a diehard Hello Kitty fan.

McDonald’s Hong Kong
McDonald’s Hong Kong
McDonald’s Hong Kong

I particularly like the seasonal ‘red envelopes’ that celebrate the different aspects of the McDonald’s Chinese new year menu.

Malaysia Chinese new year adverts

Malaysia is impressive for the quality of the ads, particularly given the country’s economic performance before and during COVID-19.

The most impressive set of adverts for me so far have been done by Malaysian power company Tenaga Nasional Berhad. It is based on the same folk tale that Apple China adapted for their advert. There is a five minute film, a ten second and 30 second trailer to maximise impact. It feels like a mini Stephen Chow film.

TENAGA

Grab is similar to Uber, it does transport, food ordering and food delivery. Grab like Singapore’s Singtel builds on successful ads from last year. It mixes Chinese New Year with the tropes of a kung fu movie like the Grab book of Tai Chi. The production values on it are very high.

Grab Malaysia

Traditional Chinese medicine brand focuses on family in their engaging minute film.

Eu Yan Sang

Yakult is a six minute drama that is very now. A mother misses her daughter who is coming apart at the seams working in a challenging environment at a hospital. In the end they come together over food virtually.

Yakult – Miles apart, but close at heart

Mercedes-Benz went with telling a heart-warming story rather than trying to have a product hero. At 1 minute, the film seems extravagant compared to some of the ones I have been looking at this year. It plays on the mix of happiness and awkwardness that happens during family gatherings like Christmas or Thanksgiving in the west. The overlapping family banter is done really well and the code switching feels very natural.

Mercedes-Benz

Samsung Malaysia came out with Chinese New Year story for the COVID era, that is as much about relating with the audience as it is pushing product – although technology helps stave off the worst of a dystopian present.

Lego created an ad with local online personality Danny Ahboy as the protagonist. It was interesting that they focused on nostalgia and had an all-adult ensemble, apart from the flashback scenes.

The Lego Group

Malaysian mobile phone carrier Celcom went with an uplifting message and artfully crafted b-roll, to show how Malaysians in the past faced adversity together with the bonds strengthened by Chinese new year festivities.

Celcom

It’s not necessarily the most memorable campaign, but it wins points for not putting the brand front and centre in the creative, and instead is a hymn to their stakeholders.

The biggest surprise for me was Coca-Cola who have down a relatively safe route with their Have a little celebration with big meanings together, but its a 15 second spot which creatively very restrictive. I found this especially surprising, given how long Coca-Cola stopped its media spend for in 2020. I would have thought that they would need to spend on brand salience at this time.

The Coca-Cola Company

Singapore CNY 2021 adverts

Singapore telecoms carrier Singtel has consistently done great Chinese new year themed adverts. This is a sequel to their CNY 2020 campaign. This year the hero product is 5G connectivity. It’s a mini cinematic production clocking in at 6 minutes. But it pays the audience back for their attention with drama, comedy and a heart warming ending.

Singtel

Mobile e-commerce platform Shopee came up with an ad to target shopping for CNY gift giving. It is the kind of ear worm song that is likely to stick with you from childhood, well into adult life and trigger nostalgia down the road. So a potentially great brand building vehicle.

Shopee Singapore

Uniqlo Singapore goes after COVID-19 head on, it treats this brand tribute to the spirit of Chinese new year as a look book. Check out the dancing Grandma. The staging of it makes clear that it’s an everyman tale. The story plays out in a well maintained HDB flat.

Fast Retailing

CNY 2021 advert conclusions

For CNY 2021, across all the countries that I looked at, there were signs that advertisers budgets seem to be hurting. I have looked at this for a few years and never seen as many spots done on just a 15-second execution before. Especially given the opportunity that Chinese new year gives to get consumer spend and built brand salience.

Imagine the John Lewis Christmas ad, or the Coca-Cola holidays are coming creative treatments as just 15 second spots?

The Coca-Cola Company

Storytelling becomes much harder. The planner has to craft a tighter brief and the creatives have to work harder to just get a good result, let alone a great result.

A friend of mine once said that there might be a correlation between the amount of presents featured in a John Lewis Christmas ad and the likely retail performance during the holiday. I think we can draw a similar heuristic between 15 second spots and likely business performance.

More information on past Chinese new year celebrations

Chinese new year 2020

Chinese new year 2019

Chinese new year 2018