In This Dystopian Sci-Fi Film from Budweiser, Beer Can Set You Free

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In the U.S., Budweiser has been plugging its Made-in-America message with U.S.A.-themed ads and labels. In China, obviously, it has a different tactic. Budweiser's new summer campaign there involves electronic dance music and a sci-fi film set in a dystopian future where a bottle of Bud can set you free.

The four-and-a-half-minute ad, by CAA Marketing, features pop superstar Eason Chan as a bartender who helps actress Fish Liew escape from a gray, monotonous world, finding refuge in a dance club where she can let loose and be herself.

AB InBev's Budweiser markets itself as a premium beer brand in China, where its market share has grown from 1.4% to 3.6% in the five years leading up to 2016, according to Euromonitor International. (Budweiser is the No. 5 player; the category leader is inexpensive local beer Snow, with over 23% of the market last year.)

The brand's campaigns often have a different feel in China, which was the first market where Budweiser tapped into electronic dance music, or EDM. Now it's a big part of its strategy there. The brand took a risk with that, since EDM was little-known in China when Budweiser got interested.

Matt Che, Budweiser's North Asia-Pacific market VP, sensed there was potential. Chinese consumers who listened would say things like, "I feel a moment of peace, a moment of release after a tough day at work, when I hear the music," he recalled. The brand has worked on an EDM festival in China called Budweiser Storm since 2013. It started out in Shanghai and has spread to nine cities.

"A brand shouldn't always just see what consumers like," Che said. "We should be taking them with us, beyond expectations."

Cantopop singer Chan, paired with DJ Alok, made his first EDM track for the campaign. Budweiser had worked with CAA Marketing, part of Creative Artists Agency, on a Halloween campaign for China, and it tapped the agency again for this project. The inspiration for the video came from an activation the brand was planning involving wristbands that light up in time to music. Budweiser is distributing a few different versions of the wristbands this summer; their pulsing red lights are a note of color in the film, set in a world where everything is gray and nobody smiles.

"It's a metaphor for people living in modern society in Shanghai, New York or Paris – people are doing their routine, living up to other people's standards or expectations," Che said. The name of the film, and of the EDM track that goes with it, is "Fang," which means "unleash" in China. (The theme of unleashing your true self through beer is something Asian beer brand Tiger has also tried.)

Budweiser has been experimenting with storytelling lately in China, where long branded videos can take off on social sites. Budweiser had a previous hit with its Chinese New Year tale from Anomaly Shanghai, an emotional story about a father and daughter. The new sci-fi film got a boost from an event to tease the content, with a futurist set and a press conference; it was a hit when it was livestreamed earlier this month.

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