Pepsi's Summer Campaign Journeys Back to China's Literary Past

Exotic TV Spot Promotes Mother Water Cellar Project, Part of $2.5 Billion Investment

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Pepsi launched its 2010 summer campaign with stars Louis Koo, Show Luo, Jolin Tsai and Huang Xiaoming in Beijing on July 21.
Pepsi launched its 2010 summer campaign with stars Louis Koo, Show Luo, Jolin Tsai and Huang Xiaoming in Beijing on July 21.
BEIJING ( -- PepsiCo is promoting brand Pepsi with a campaign called "Activate Your Thirst," including a splashy TV spot that takes the soft drink back to its fantasy-action roots in China.

Richard Lee
Richard Lee
The spot, created by BBDO Worldwide, Shanghai, is a modern adaptation of a chapter in "Journey to the West," one of the four great classics in Chinese literature published anonymously during the Ming dynasty.

The ad features four pop stars sponsored by Pepsi--Louis Koo, Show Luo, Jolin Tsai and Huang Xiaoming--playing the roles of the novel's four famous characters. They are called Master Tang, Monkey King, Pigsy and Sand Monk. Former beauty queen Zhang Zilin, who was Miss World in 2007, appears as the Spider Queen.

New ad removes focus from music
The ad, which premiered at a press event at China's National Convention Center in Beijing on July 21, marks a return to the epic style of ads Pepsi favored through 2008, and away from the focus on music that has characterized Pepsi marketing for the past 18 months.

At the press event, the stars enacted more episodes of the Chinese saga, shared anecdotes from the shoot in Dunhuang, and introduced limited-edition swirl-shaped drinking glasses. In the TV spot, the four characters have to fight the Spider Queen to retrieve the Pepsi-branded glasses. (Watch the spot on

The film has a striking but pertinent backdrop: it was shot on the dunes near Dunhuang, once an important stop on the ancient Silk Road, but now a remote -- and thirst-provokingly arid -- part of western China.

The campaign is a collaboration with the China Women's Development Foundation, which seeks better care for Chinese in water-deficient regions.

The ad "has an epic production scale starring top celebrities from Greater China [with a] meaningful spin," said Richard Lee, who relocated to Shanghai last month as PepsiCo's chief marketing officer for China from New York, where he held an international beverage marketing role.

"We're leveraging the campaign to drive awareness of the Mother Water Cellar project to encourage people to donate wells to help people in China's interior who don't have access to clean water."

Pepsi will build Mother Water Cellars using donations made in the name of Pepsi drinkers who uploaded posts on Starting in late September, PepsiCo and partner supermarkets and restaurants will organize store-based marketing programs to distribute Pepsi Swirl Glasses and donate more water cellars.

Pepsi will invest $2.5 billion in China
Pepsi's latest ad is "dual purpose," said Chris Tung, PepsiCo's Shanghai-based VP-marketing for China. Marketers in China normally do separate ads for brand-building and corporate social responsibility activities, but Pepsi wants "to achieve both with great entertaining value and consumer engagement."

The water program is part of Pepsi's pledge to make long-term investments in China. Two months ago, the company said it will pump $2.5 billion into China over the next three years, in addition to $1 billion the company has invested since 2008. The announcement indicates the growth potential for the Chinese market as well as the stiff competition Pepsi faces from Coca-Cola Co. and local rivals.

Pepsi plans to open up to a dozen new plants in China and upgrade existing ones, invest in farms to grow potatoes and oats for its snack products, and place more coolers at retail outlets. The U.S. company will also build a research and development center to create products for Asia -- albeit long after Coke opened its own global innovation and technology center in Shanghai in March 2009.

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