McDonald's China just introduced intriguing new products for Chinese New Year: the Emperor's Best Shrimp Burger, the Empress' Pineapple Burger and a beverage that translates, loosely, as Smiling Concubine's Lychee Bubble Tea. Names like that beg for an explanation.
To build buzz about the unexpected ingredients, a campaign from Leo Burnett Shanghai tapped into China's passion for historical TV costume dramas. The shows, such as "The Empress of China," starring actress Fan Bingbing, feature elaborate costumes, tales of love and palace intrigue. Playing on that pop culture phenomenon, the agency did a series of surprising cartoon ads with a historical theme, which rolled out on digital channels including ubiquitous mobile app WeChat.
It can be dicey for Western brands to be too literal when referring to Chinese culture, but this approach works because it blends tradition with humor and a contemporary twist. The campaign plays with slang and youth culture. Under the influence of costume dramas, some young people on social media jokingly call themselves by the pronouns the emperor and empress called themselves long ago, 'zhen' and 'bengong.' Those are the characters used in the names of McDonald's new burgers.