Gay Couples, Rappers, and Red Envelope Battles: Chinese Advertisers Gear Up for Lunar New Year

Here's how advertisers are going after the Year of the Rat Renminbi

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6:28 PM HKT, Fri January 10, 2020 3 mins read

In the same way that Christmas in much of the English-language world is preceded by waves of seasonally-themed advertising, the approach of Spring Festival (or Lunar New Year) in China has become synonymous with brands rolling out limited edition products and splashing the cash on special campaigns that feature lashings of red and gold plus warm, fuzzy family-focused feelings.

We’ll have more on the products in the coming days, but below is a quick round-up of the most eye-catching examples of the Spring Festival ad campaign phenomenon as we head toward the Year of the Rat 2020, revealing some interesting insights into where young Chinese thinking is at right now and reflecting some trends we’ve previously covered here on RADII.

Tmall’s Gay Couple Ad

Although increasing numbers of young people in China are choosing to skip the nagging and fuss of Spring Festival at their parents’ house in favor of going traveling, the traditional image of returning home remains a powerful theme at this time of year. Alibaba ecommerce site Tmall have put an interesting spin on this with one of their slew of New Year ads, by having a gay couple feature:

Basically, the couple arrive triggering some raised eyebrows among the relatives and causing two women to say they’ll be “eating melon,” slang for sitting back and watching some sort of real life drama play out in front of you. They’re reprimanded by an older family member who proffers some melon seeds to snack on instead — a traditional pastime for many in China, especially during the New Year period.

The commercial feels deliberately ambiguous. In the most-upvoted comment under sex health-focused account LoveMatters’ posting of the video to microblogging site Weibo, one user notes, “this Tmall advert is really clever. It’s not directly saying they support or don’t support [LGBTQ+ rights], but by featuring it it’s already a big step forward.”


Apple’s iPhone-Only Short Film

After getting famed director Jia Zhangke to make them an iPhone-only mini movie last year, Apple have brought in director Theodore Melfi (he did Hidden Figures), Joker and The Hangover cinematographer Lawrence Sher, and star Zhou Xun for their 2020 effort, Daughter.

apple chinese new year film

Not many more details about this just yet (it’s released this weekend), but from the trailer it looks like it’ll revolve around generational differences and mother figure roles, and contain plenty of heartstring-plucking moments.

Update: It’s now live on Apple’s China site here.

Nike’s Epic Hongbao Battle

Hongbao or “red envelopes” are ubiquitous in China for the New Year. But the small packages stuffed with cash can often mean a stern game of face and stubborn politeness, with kids being told to refuse them and older relatives insistent that they take the money.

That’s the premise behind Nike’s “first ever Chinese New Year spot,” which weaves in plenty of tradition, stunning scenery, and scenes of a changing China (including the new form of hongbao: digital packages sent to your phone). Check it out:

(That final twist comes from the tradition of if you get married and have your own family, it’s generally seen as time to give hongbao back to your elders.)

Dicos’ Disco + Rockers ‘n’ Rappers

In the wake of Rap of China, the country’s hip hop artists have been used to sell everything from fast food to home appliances — with Higher Brother Masiwei’s Sprite ad being a classic of the Spring Festival genre.

Now, there’s another big music reality show for advertisers to harvest faces from: The Big Band. iQIYI’s streaming smash hit has already turned previously little-known rock musicians into the faces of brands such as L’Oreal, but now they’re popping up in New Year commercials too. New Pants have joined break-out Rap of China star Gem in turning out for Nescafe, for example.


Elsewhere, fast food chain Dicos’ effort combines “China’s Beyonce” and now face of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty Wang Ju with pop rapper (and ex Nine Percent member) Lil Ghost for a full-on cheesy music video complete with karaoke-style on-screen lyrics in case you want to sing along to a track about burgers. “Yelang Disco” it ain’t.

Airbnb’s Animations

Striking a more traditional chord and receiving some good feedback online are Airbnb‘s animated entries into the New Year fray. The first in what is reported to be a series follows a young woman growing up and moving to a big city to become a nurse, before feeling disconnected from her family home at Spring Festival (a theme seen time and again in Chinese New Year commercials).

Her parents, also feeling pained at the distance between them and their child at this time of year, plan a surprise visit to celebrate the holidays on her doorstep — but where will they stay? Not a panda house or the Great Wall unfortunately, but naturally it’s a very slick-looking Airbnb pad. Aww.

And if all that feels a bit too warm and fuzzy and commercial, here are some classic examples of when brands got their Spring Festival pushes very wrong:

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