Welcome to my latest directorial effort for PepsiCo’s 2016 Chinese New Year campaign, “Bring Happiness Home: The Monkey King Family”. It is an honour to helm this film that is planted at the confluence of three cultural icons: the protagonist of “Journey to the West”, the family who has portrayed him for four generations, and a global brand like Pepsi Cola. I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Danielle Jin, CMO of PepsiCo beverages, and her brand team, my business partner Alex Xie and our intrepid Team PepsiCo at CIVILIZATION Shanghai, scriptwriter Miya Wang, and producer extraordinaire Didi Xu.
2016 is the Year of the Monkey. So there will no doubt be a bevy of marketing campaigns showcasing the Monkey King or “Journey to the West”. How can PepsiCo’s “Bring Happiness Home” celebrate the Monkey King, this mythological simian symbol of irreverence and fun (personality traits rarely found in the heroes of traditional Chinese literature), in a very PepsiCo manner? 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. I hope you enjoy the film.
For those not living in China, what is PepsiCo’s “Bring Happiness Home”? It is an entertainment platform created in 2012 by, back then, PepsiCo CMO Richard Lee and his team, together with BBDO Shanghai and acclaimed commercials director David Tsui. In the ensuing years, CIVILIZATION Shanghai has played an ever increasing role in developing and evolving this platform, which ropes in multiple PepsiCo brands to pool their marketing resources together, with the aim of rising above the blaring voices of hundreds of thousands of brands in the nationwide marketing bazaar that is the Chinese New Year season.
Our small contribution for “Bring Happiness Home” 2013 was a behind-the-scenes documentary centred on the theme of “Who is family to you?”. Its authentic depiction of PepsiCo’s celebrities revealing stories from their true lives resonated with the zeitgeist, which saw consumers who thirsted for celebrities they could relate to on a more human level rather than just venerate from a distance. This film eventually snowballed into a music video collaboration with China’s most popular TV show at that time, “China Voice”. While our film was produced on-the-fly as a tiny part of a much larger campaign, the content we created made a splash among consumers far bigger than its role in the marketing plan. This played a part in shaping CIVILIZATION Shanghai’s earliest belief, to surround a key idea with fascinating content rather than leverage, and be constricted by, paid media channels.
CIVILIZATION Shanghai was appointed co-lead agency (along with DDB Shanghai) for “Bring Happiness Home 2014”. This time, we collaborated with the creators of 爱情公寓, then China’s most successful web-based serial comedy (it launched the careers of a slew of young Chinese celebrities). We co-created multiple episodes that brought together an ensemble cast of both A-list celebrities and up-and-coming stars from China’s broad spectrum of entertainment platforms that have sprouted up on China’s exponentially expanding web landscape. With the Long Tail of infinite content available on the Internet broadcasted on millions of fragmented media channels, CIVILIZATION Shanghai, through campaigns like “Bring Happiness Home”, is now positioned to curate, collaborate, co-create and coordinate brand content with all the incredible talent and platforms available out there in the wilderness of the worldwide web. As an important aside, as part of PepsiCo’s CSR commitment, we also tied up with the largest e-commerce platform, Alibaba’s Tmall, to encourage every consumer to add a tiny donation when making payment for a purchase, which went to creating care packages for underprivileged families. The Tmall site was used as the broadcast media and, in a marketing first, Alibaba opened up its Alipay system to collaborate with PepsiCo and in facilitating donations.
For CIVILIZATION Shanghai, Chinese New Year 2015 was an experiment like no other. The main communication push for Bring Happiness Home was to return the creative reins of PepsiCo brands to their consumers. Through a collaboration with MeiPai, China’s dominant social video mobile platform, consumers were encouraged to upload 10-second videos of their journeys home for Chinese New Year, the largest annual human migration. The most-viewed videos were then edited together to create China’s first crowd-sourced web movie.
With “Bring Happiness Home: The Monkey King Family” becoming the most-shared and talked-about video within days of its launch, as well as receiving widespread media coverage from mainstream news media, what’s next for “Bring Happiness Home”? Well, in the words of the the theme song of the 1986 Chinese television series of “Journey to the West”, 敢问路在何方？路，在脚下。 (Dare you ask what road lies ahead? The road; it’s just beneath your feet.)
“We are not a digital agency. We are an agency for the digital world.”
No other agency in the past 3 years has so successfully helped major FMCG brands launch Integrated Marketing Campaigns in China by collaborating with relevant digital platforms and the creators of entertainment content.
We call it the China 5 agency model (五术).
Consult/ Curate/ Collaborate/ Create/ Coordinate
As marketing departments get leaner, access to final decision makers becomes easier, which makes engaging them on a strategic level the key first step in any project we embark on. Most senior multinational agency management won’t last five minutes in a room with a CMO savvy in the ways of the China media and entertainment landscape, which are so specific to this market. Its optimisation is vital to the success of any marketing campaign. For the past 30 months, CIVILIZATION has worked hand-in-hand with the major Chinese digital platforms and entertainment companies to produce content. We’ve built relationships that now grants us unfettered and priority insights into their latest offerings that our brands can work with. These are the discussions we engage in with the CMOs we have on quick-dial. We only work with marketers who ignore the hierarchy of the marketer-vendor relationship in favour of expediting great ideas. Thus, bringing the creative process upstream is the cornerstone of our client focus and service offering.
The very Long Tail of consumer choice in China when it comes to content means finding the right person to work on the right campaign is crucial. No agency has all the creative talent it requires under its own roof, nor should it. So we found the talent to find the best talent. Our curating capabilities are built through our hiring policy; we are a collective of illustrators, poets, dancers, craftsmen, singer-songwriters and film directors, who chose advertising as a means to amplify our art; and we bring our circle of fellow artists into the agency for project-based work as and when it is appropriate. There are infinite ways to connect with the different communities on different digital platforms; so we are building the infinite creative department.
Genuine collaboration requires an intellectual and business integrity that is only possible when interests and goals are aligned. Our “Brand First” approach requires the client to be our partner on a strategic and “Big Idea” level, after which we always seek the best person / agency / content production / media platform to take on the execution. Sometimes it’s us. Sometimes it’s not. “Brand First”, and not business first, earns us unprecedented levels of client loyalty.
We believe when it comes to marketing communications, a brand can do anything but a brand should not do everything. This is especially true of China, one of the most overpriced media markets in the world. Hence, we focus our co-creation efforts with our curated artists and collaborators on the smallest possible number of channels to achieve something unforgettable that can be magnified organically. Even our IMC efforts are always centred around one central pillar; it could be a movie, a song, a PR stunt, etc., and then we build around and amplify it.
Like collaboration, coordination is a task more and more of our clients are requesting given the plethora of specialised agencies they are grouping under the Big Idea that we create with the brand team. It’s a great way to spark co-creation.
Here are some highlights of our past 30 months.
In less than 3 years, our independent shop has grown to more than 50-strong and has a roster of clients including Pepsi, Lay’s, Master Kong bottled teas, Sedrin (an AB InBev beer), Jack Daniel’s and a soon-to-be-announced brand from Mondelēz. We have also produced work for the likes of Mirinda, Levi’s, Roca bathrooms, Ping An loans, Stolichnaya and New Balance.
As of this year, we are PepsiCo’s lead agency of record for Pepsi and Lay’s, a first for a non-network shop.
With PepsiCo’s multi-brand Chinese New Year campaigns for 2014 and 2015, we cracked the key for co-creating work with the digital behemoths of China. For example, in 2014, Alibaba opened their online payments system for us to solicit donations for care packages that were sent to underprivileged families. Their e-commerce site, T-Mall, effectively “became” broadcast media for our campaign. And this year, PepsiCo worked with MeiPai (China’s version of Vine plus Instagram) to create this nation’s first crowd-sourced brand movie.
We helped PepsiCo pitch for, and win, the Disneyland business against Coke. It will be the only Disneyland in the world that serves PepsiCo products exclusively.
In 2013, we created China’s largest FMCG campaign in the form of an integrated brand entertainment platform for Lay’s, “Who’s Your Flavorite”. We also led this brand platform in 2014, and are doing likewise for 2015.
For AB-InBev’s Sedrin, we created another first by completely branding China’s pride and joy, her high-speed trains, and served free beer on board for all passengers heading home for Chinese New Year. A 12-minute micro-movie (AB InBev China’s first ever) was created and broadcasted on television stations and internet video platforms for the duration of this week-long holiday.
Our China 5 (五术) approach was instrumental to how we executed all of the campaigns mentioned above.
A comment from a cherished client, “CIVILIZATION will continue to assist in the strategic and creative development of Pepsi-Cola and Lay’s for 2015 and 2016,” says Richard Lee, PepsiCo China’s CMO. “The digital disruption has completely reshaped the brand-agency relationship, and we have found a partner that’s nimble enough to join us and our young consumers in exploring the ever-changing digital landscape together.”
Another comment from Huang Wei, CMO of AB InBev, “Great brand building starts with great storytelling. And few agencies tell better stories than CIVILIZATION. They are invaluable partners.”
A note from CEO Alex Xie, “We are about co-creating great Integrated Marketing Campaigns with our brands, their consumers and advocates, the entertainment industry, and the communities and digital platforms where all of us now live, work and play. Our approach, the China 5 model (五术), is the sort of flexible partnership that clients are looking for in a marketing industry that is constantly challenged to keep up with the technology and the media innovation that consumers readily embrace.”
CIVILIZATION will move to new premises in May 2015, and has intentions to expand into other cities by end-2016.
Links to some of our work:
(CIVILIZATION is on a journey with a map that’s still being drawn.)
China’s first crowdsourced movie and advertising campaign. PepsiCo enlists the help of award-winning director Wei-Ran Li and China’s top celebrities to co-create with consumers a slew of documentaries about the largest annual human migration and most important festival on the Chinese calendar. Through a video mobile app, Mei Pai, the public submits 15-second videos that are then curated and edited to form this tribute to family reunion.
Brand: Pepsi / Lay’s
Client Executive: Richard Lee / Tina Wang
Agency: CIVILIZATION Shanghai
Creative Director: Alex Xie / Andrew Lok
Writer: Juno Zhang / Miya Wang
Art Director: Stephen Zou / Hansen Hu / Jason Dai / Sally Shi
Client Management: Grace Dong / Lisa Li
Executive Producer: Guo-Jun Yu
Production Company: Perfect Life Beijing
Director: Wei-Ran Li
Cinematographer: Tian-Xiang Xie （TVC）、Liang Chen（导演版本把乐带回家&众创）
Producer: Qia-Qia Dong 、 Zhi-yi Zheng 、 Yang Li 、Zhuang Liu
Post Production Company: DIgit-Digit Beijing（TVC）/ PO Shanghai（Offline）&Digit-Digit Beijing（TC&Online） （导演版本把乐带回家）/ Touches Hongkong（Offline）&Digit-Digit HK（TC）&Digit-Digit BJ（Online）（众创）
Editor: Bo-Xu Guo（TVC）A-Bo（导演版本）Nuo-Yi Huang(众创)
Sound & Music: Digit-Digit Beijing