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Agency: Publicis
Client: Oreo
Date: May 2024
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In a nation known for over-work, over-studying and pressure to achieve, Oreo is bringing back China’s 5,000-year-old culture of play with a platform called ‘Art of ‘Play’.

Playfulness has been part of China's DNA for thousands of years, as evidenced by the invention of some of the world’s most popular games. But in modern China, play is in decline. Chinese kids have an average play time of just one hour per day – the lowest in the world. Playtime has been replaced by stress, study and competition, and this pressure carries through into adult life when working 996 (9am to 9pm, 6 days per week) is commonplace.

Where did Chinese playfulness go?

To remind people of China’s rich playful heritage, Oreo teamed up with Leo Burnett Shanghai to create ‘Art of Play’ – an ongoing platform that brings playfulness back into the collective consciousness.

To launch ‘Art of Play’, Oreo first took over the busiest subway in Shanghai with the recreation of a famous 1,000-year-old artwork in which ancient toys are controversially replaced with study tools and symbols of academic pressure. The installation sparked a debate about why 5,000 years of playfulness is now forgotten, and the importance of creating more balance in life, in a more sustainable way.

Then, to bring back the long-lost art of play, toy designer Lao Wang redesigned three iconic Chinese toys: the Luban Lock (2,500 years old), the Kong Zhu (1,800 - 1,900 years old), and the Tangram (1,000 years old). Reimagined in Oreo’s signature black and white, each toy was selected for its ability to unlock kids’ creativity and the endless possibilities that come with it, reminding parents and teachers that creativity is just as important as self-discipline and academic diligence.

“China is the nation that brought board games, soccer and playing cards to the world, but these days, we have forgotten how to play. Oreo’s vision is in our tagline, ‘Stay Playful’: as the world’s most playful cookie, our mission is to unlock playfulness in everyday life. Using toys as our medium, we are reconnecting China with its playful past and starting a conversation about creating a more balanced world for kids,” says Grace Zhu, Vice-President of Marketing and Growth at Mondelēz China.

Natalie Lam, Chief Creative Officer at Publicis Groupe APAC, adds: “Modern China gives the world a serious image of hyper competitiveness, technological innovation, and manufacturing prowess at breakneck speed. The lighter, optimistic side of the culture is often forgotten, yet it is a deeply-ingrained truth that has existed for over 5,000 years. If you look at classic Chinese art, the subjects led very enviable leisurely lives – they’re always playing music, appreciating the moon, enjoying nature, fishing, or playing games. We wanted to bring some of that balance back into stressful modern life.”

Oreo’s redesigned toys are available for purchase as limited-edition kits on Tmall together with packs of Oreo cookies. Oreo is donating ‘Art of Play’ toys to schools around the country, helping teachers to incorporate playfulness into their daily routines.

A national influencer campaign reached 40 million fans across social platforms Weibo, Douyin and Xiaohongshu, sparking a debate about China’s lost playfulness and a reappraisal of the country’s long study and work hours. The platform has received widespread support from parents, educators and wellness experts, who are now pledging to ‘Stay Playful’.

The launch of “Art of Play” marks the start of a long-term platform that aligns Oreo’s playfulness with China’s rich history, starting with toy design but extending to music, literature, art and sport over the coming months.