StrategyAcquisitionHow brands are celebrating the Chinese New Year in China

How brands are celebrating the Chinese New Year in China

On February 8, China’s 1.3 billion people will see in the Chinese New Year of the Monkey. Here’s how brands like PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Unilever and Burberry have embraced the holiday. 

Video and mobile have dominated Chinese New Year of the Monkey campaigns for high-profile multi-national brands in China. Family, food and homecomings are the common content themes, tapping into the festival’s association to tradition and family reunion.

A common practice at this time of year is the giving of lucky red packets of money known as ‘hong bao’ – these too feature heavily in a number of digital initiatives. The monkey attributes of curiosity and mischievousness have also given brands something to play with.

Here’s a collection of Chinese New Year (CNY) campaigns from PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Burberry and Unilever.

1. PepsiCo: Bring Happiness Home 2016: The Monkey King Family

In this six-minute film, PepsiCo chronicles the beautiful and touching real-life story of Chinese actor Zhang Jinlai and his family’s tradition of producing actors to play the renowned Monkey King.

Under stage name, Liu Xiao Ling Tong, the actor starred as the Monkey King in one of China’s most popular television shows, the 1980s television series Journey to the West.

Journey to the West_Monkey King_China_600

Launched in early January, PepsiCo’s short film has been shared widely across social media and has been viewed more than 40 million times on Youku (China’s YouTube). The film’s success stems from its themes around family, duty, loyalty and tradition, while simultaneously exploring the monkey theme through the fascinating history of Zhang’s family roots.

Being the year of the monkey, an influx of brand campaigns around China’s famous Monkey King and Journey to the West series was to be expected, writes the film’s director, Andrew Lok, in a blog.

So how could PepsiCo celebrate the Monkey King – a mythological simian symbol of irreverence and fun (personality traits rarely found in the heroes of traditional Chinese literature) – in a very PepsiCo manner, he asks.

“Believe it or not, it was easy. Because the core values of Pepsi Cola, youth and irreverence, are the very qualities the Monkey King naturally embodies,” Lok says.

Product placement is limited until the very end of the film and is complimented by the release of 2016 Monkey King commemorative Pepsi cans.

CNY Monkey campaigns_Pepsi Commemorative Can_600

2. McDonald’s China: You Are My CNY

McDonald’s has steered away from the monkey theme, instead running with a short video commercial on Youku showing the great lengths Chinese people make to get home to their families in the lead up to the festival.

Packed train stations, crowds, bad weather and a vehicle breakdown don’t stop a little Ronald McDonald toy from making his way across China to be reunited with his larger self for the Chinese New Year.

The slogan: What matters most is being reunited with the people you love.

McDonald's_Little Ronald_CNY_600

The online video is accompanied by out of home advertising to promote special CNY products and some in-store decorations.

3. Burberry: Happy Lunar New Year

WeChat is a particularly popular platform for CNY campaigns – especially its ‘shake’ feature which allows users to shake their phones to win discounts, promotions and prizes.

This was the case for Burberry, which has been running a Happy Lunar New Year campaign through its WeChat account since early January.

How does it work? First users go to Burberry’s WeChat account page either through a search or scanning the Burberry QR code.

Burberry_QR Code_300

Then, by shaking, tapping and swiping their phones, users can open the virtual cylinder-shaped gift to reveal a message from Burberry.

Users are then encouraged to send a personalized Burberry greeting to friends: Input your friend’s name, input your own name, choose a virtual scarf for your friend from the lovely choices available (very clever product placement here), select your friend from your address book, and send. Too easy!


The user is now inside the Burberry WeChat platform, where they are invited to continue browsing other Burberry products, including fragrances and gifts for men, women and children.

Chinese New Year is a big gift-giving event and wearing new clothes in particular, form part of the celebration.

While Burberry is not the first, nor the last brand to implement a fun WeChat campaign for CNY, it stands out as one of the best because it is fun, seamless and interactive, backed-up by simple and beautiful visuals and audio.

4. Unilever Foods Solutions: The Taste of Reunion Is Not Complete Without You

Unilever Foods Solutions (UFS) is Unilever’s catering brand. Its Chinese New Year campaign is aimed at China’s five million catering businesses – specifically Chinese chefs.

The initiative builds on the theme of family reunion and connects with those people who can’t be with their families at a pivotal time on the Chinese calendar.

This campaign was also heavily rolled out across WeChat, but used Tencent data and WeChat’s targeted advertising capabilities to promote the initiative to a very niche audience through the WeChat’s Moments feed.

Here’s what it looked like:

Video Commercial on Moments in Wechat

Initial roll out of the campaign began in November 2015 and incorporated a number of interactive elements on the WeChat platform. These include:

  • Prize redemption by using a mobile to scan a code on selected Knorr product packaging.
  • Interactive webpages on the UFS WeChat platform allowing chefs to hit a ‘visit home’ button to receive virtual home-cooked dishes accompanied by the sound of voices of their hometown dialect. (This particular element generated 300,000 views).
  • The sharing of lucky red envelopes.
  • Fans could also choose an image of a traditional Spring Festival dish and add a recorded message to send to families and friends.


The campaign culminated with the release of a video ad promoted across WeChat Moments and QQ. Watch the video here.

WeChat is an unusual platform for a business-to-business brand, but the use of targeted advertising on WeChat moments has allowed UFS to reach its chef group, increasing its WeChat followings to more than one million in the process.


These campaigns demonstrate that targeted, interactive initiatives work well in China.

A platform like WeChat goes beyond being a simple mobile messaging app to leading the way on mobile social commerce. Through the various features of this platform, brands are getting noticed, creating engagement, and ultimately, pulling in the sales as demonstrated by the Burberry example above.

The difference between a good ad and a great one, comes down to content. Great campaigns tell a story. PepsiCo’s Monkey King short film resonates with its viewers because it is interesting and relevant. There is a delicate balance for advertisers in how to get the product placement of branded content just right, and here, PepsiCo has succeeded in spades.

Happy New Year of the Monkey everyone!


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