In this five-part series, Jing Daily looks into the lessons that every brand should learn from the evolution of content commerce in China since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020. We will publish one piece every week, with the full series to be made available for download as a PDF. If you missed Part One of the series, you can give that a read here, and check out Part Two here.
Strategy 3: Emotional Brand Films
Although branded film and video productions are nothing new, in China they have gained widespread acceptance as a hybrid art form-marketing vehicle, driving a flood of investment by brands big and small. In 2020, two key trends allowed brand films to establish deeper connections with audiences: the Covid-19 pandemic and the rise of short video.
In the early days of China’s Covid-19 experience, domestic Chinese brands expressed their solidarity with those on the front lines through emotionally charged films that celebrated their heroism in the face of a worsening health crisis. One strong example came from Q&A platform Zhihu, which produced the short film “Thirty-three” (三十三), starring young heartthrob Xiao Zhan.
Referring to the number of days between the declaration of Covid-19 as a public health emergency in late January 2020 and the release of the film, “Thirty-three” reviewed the national fight against coronavirus through three questions posed through Zhihu’s search function. Xiao Zhan voices the replies over footage from news outlets and other sources, and closes with an optimistic message of national pride. The film received an overwhelmingly positive response on Weibo, with close to 500,000 reposts, many coming from Xiao’s fans.
Patriotic Undertones and A-List Directors
Over the first half of 2020, dozens of brands produced similar films with patriotic undertones, hailing the work of medical staff, delivery workers, and everyday people, including BMW. The German automaker’s film starred another young idol, Jackson Yee, with the Hunan native reading a “letter to 2020” over a series of still images, from shots of empty streets and masked faces to scenes of home life under quarantine and, finally, inspiring shots of individuals reaching for the sun.
Brand films have the dual effect of giving brands the opportunity to connect with Chinese consumers, not only by casting their favorite celebrities, but also by featuring the talents of A-list directors such as Chen Kaige, Jia Zhangke, and Lu Chuan making films for brands ranging from Lay’s potato chips to Prada, and leveraging the popularity of video-focused platforms to ensure widespread distribution.
Another benefit of the format is its ability to promote a company and its products more subtly than traditional advertising. To celebrate the Lunar New Year in 2021, Madrid-based luxury brand Loewe took this approach with the release of a series of three short films paying homage to traditional folk arts associated with the holiday in China and offering glimpses into the lives of families dedicated to preserving the ancient techniques for future generations. Each of the films in the series closed with the line, “Supporting Craft Since 1846,” establishing a parallel between the brand’s history and rich traditions of the families profiled.
Without ever showing a single Loewe product (only the occasional logo), the brand aligned the three stories with Loewe’s own focus on craftsmanship and heritage. As such, they succeeding in striking the right emotional tone that sets successful brand films apart from glorified, long-form ads.