Chinese audiences are pining for simpler times: PepsiCo CNY 'Bring Happiness Home'

As we enter the Year of the Rat, advertising creatives across Asia offer their favourite Chinese New Year campaigns from over the years as we celebrate the best work from the festive period and hear their views on what is best in class.

I’m not really the target audience for Chinese New Year commercials, so the heart-string-tugging family fare doesn’t tend to move me. The spot that grabbed me at the time and has stayed with me is Monkey King Family for PepsiCo, directed by Civilization’s Andrew Lok. It’s just a fascinating intersection of modern Chinese culture, pop culture, history and mythology.

First up, it taught me something. I like that from a commercial. I knew how significant a myth Journey to The West is in Chinese culture, exemplified by the slew of Monkey King movies each year, and I was dimly aware of the TV series in the 1980s, but I had no idea how huge it was or culturally significant it remains.

I was also unaware of the tradition of actors making entire careers playing the Monkey King. Zhang Jinlai (aka the ‘6th Little Master’) is the fourth generation of his family to portray the character. The storytelling in the journey from the Qing Dynasty through the Zhang family’s appearances in grassroots village performance, theatre, film and into TV, is on point and engaging. I enjoyed the staging and cinematography, and the slo-mo cutaways to the boy training in the warehouse work really well.

It’s also a great cultural insight into what moves modern Chinese audiences, beyond the more obvious sentimental family stories. Nostalgia can be a powerful tool for filmmakers and advertisers, nowhere more than in China, where the massive and rapid change over the past 40 years makes people pine for simpler times. This piece really nails it, without becoming sickly or overly sentimental.

Above all, it’s six-minutes long and a commercial - yet I actually wanted to watch it, as did more than 800 million Chinese viewers. That’s quite an achievement. Pepsi must have been pinching themselves to be able to align with such a hugely culturally significant icon at all, let alone in a spot that earned so many hits.

Chris Colman, executive producer, Final Frontier

Check out the latest holiday ads here, and keep an eye on The Drum's ongoing Chinese New Year coverage.

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