Factory workers are heading home this week for an annual holiday with their families and many may not return. Thousands of factories have shut down, particularly in southern China, the mainland's manufacturing base.
Coke has recognized the struggles facing the country with a campaign focused on family relationships, hard work, perseverance and hopeful optimism set against the specter of defeat.
Like many campaigns coming out this month in the lead-up to the biggest holiday of the year in China, Coke's sophisticated message is also a departure from the traditional but dull zodiac-themed ads rolled out by multinationals in the past.
The integrated campaign will run in TV, digital and out-of-home media, supported by events and point of sale promotions in supermarkets, kiosks and convenient stores across China. The emotional spot depicts the Chinese track star Liu Xiang and his father sharing the first Coke of the year. (Watch the TV ad.)
That symbolic act is a reference to Mr. Liu's withdrawal from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, a devastating moment for the country, which had pinned enormous expectations on the hurdler. His breakdown last August was burned into the national consciousness and the ad's reflective mood is a story of redemption and optimism at a time when many Chinese are heading into a period of uncertainty themselves.
The ad is "a reflection of what happened to Liu Xiang and to China. 2008 was a big year of ups and downs but through all the great times and not so great times, there is a desire to stand by him and China, and look forward to 2009," said Shanghai-based Andres Kiger, Coke's senior director of integrated marketing in China.
Coca-Cola, a global sponsor of the Olympic Games, has had a relationship with Liu Xiang since 2003. His mother was a torchbearer at the 2008 Olympic Games and his father networked with Coke executives during the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.
"With the trials and tribulations we experienced in late 2007 and 2008, Chinese New Year has renewed its meaning as a time of human connection between family and friends. Now more than ever, it is a powerful ignition point for individual optimism and positivity for the year ahead," said Shanghai-based Damian Coren, managing director of Red Lounge.
Red Lounge was established in Shanghai in Jan. 2007 to manage creative resources for brand Coca-Cola in China. The agency is staffed with executives from Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett and Starcom division and two Aegis-owned units, the digital media agency WWWins and Heartland, an outdoor media company.
Through online and in-store activities, Coca-Cola has invited the public to participate in the campaign by recounting personal stories about who they chose to share their first Coke of the year with, and give their first Coke of the year to the person of their choice.
Since the launch of the campaign on Dec. 15, 2008, over 72 million people have visited Coke's China web site, 21.3 million Chinese sent e-cards, and 3.7 million uploaded stories and video content with personal dedications to people they want to symbolically give a virtual 3D bottle of Coke. The campaign will run through mid-February.
"We found it intriguing to let people share their stories, but what's been exciting is the quality of the materials and the depth and richness of the stories. We'll explore ways to continue using this rich base. It could have future applications," Mr. Kiger said.
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