PepsiCo is betting big on Chinese New Year, marking the most important date on China's marketing calendar with a multibrand campaign featuring a 22-minute movie, a karaoke-ready theme song and even a special hand gesture.
"Bring Happiness Home" centers on a busload of travelers stranded by a snowstorm on their way home for the holiday. They ultimately band together despite disparate backgrounds, bonding over Pepsi, Lay's, Mirinda and Tropicana.
"There's a killer insight that we found about the fragile human relationship in modern China," said Richard Lee, PepsiCo's CMO-Greater China. "We want to redefine what home is. A house is not a home, home is where there's love."
Lunar New Year starts Feb. 9 and is the most important holiday in China, the one time a year many people get a break from work. The family "reunion meal" on New Year's Eve provokes a deep sense of contentment and nostalgia, and many holiday campaigns riff off this cultural insight.
In a surreal case of life imitating art, a freak snowstorm cut off the remote mountain area on the China-North Korea border where filming for the campaign was to take place in November. Pepsi scrapped the shooting schedule, rewrote the script and recruited a new set of actors -- all in one day -- to salvage the time they had with the 11 celebrities who had flown in to star in the movie.
They were relegated to cameo roles created on the fly, filmed in various parts of the Shangri-La hotel in Changchun. (It's the closest big city to the filming site; the hotel website promotes it as "China's Detroit.") TV spots for the campaign were filmed in a ballroom with a green-screen backdrop.
"After doing this kind of project, we can handle any kind of project," said Sophie Ho, senior marketing manager at PepsiCo China who was the project leader.
The minimovie was ultimately filmed a week later with a cast of unknown actors. The theme song features idols from "The Voice of China" and is now part of the song library at popular karaoke chain Cashbox. In the video, the singers make the campaign hand gesture, an upside-down V, meant to symbolize "family."
These kinds of advertiser-produced mini-films are popular in China. Buick, Philips and Lenovo have all created such types of content to air on China's top online-video site, Youku Tudou.
The videos for the campaign, which features more than two dozen celebrities, have 500 million-plus views, Mr. Lee said.
The campaign also includes product placement in a coming movie titled "Happiness Comes Home." Consumers are urged to share branded messages on social media telling friends they are like family.
Mr. Lee declined to reveal the campaign budget.
The Chinese government is apparently a fan of "Bring Happiness Home." That's not surprising since the messaging falls neatly in line with Beijing's efforts to create a "harmonious society." A senior official from the Ministry of Civil Affairs attended the campaign kickoff event, Mr. Lee noted with pride.
Director David Tsui of Moviola created the story for the minimovie. Shanghai offices of several agencies worked on the campaign: BBDO and DDB for creative, OMD and Allyes (media), Agenda (digital), BlueFocus and SoftPR (PR).