Coca-Cola's Chinese New Year Campaign Blends a Folk Art Tradition With AR and Mobile Payments

Coke Partnered With Alipay, the Mobile Payment App Affiliated With Alibaba Group

Published On
Jan 28, 2018

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In China, Coca-Cola has two familiar animated characters that it brings out every Chinese New Year; they're inspired by clay dolls, a local folk art tradition. Ahead of the holiday that starts in mid-February, the cute, giggling dolls star in a commercial from McCann Shanghai, where they jump off the label of a Coke bottle and inspire some fun and love at a family holiday dinner where everybody's staring at their mobile phones.

There's also a high-tech element, an augmented reality animation delivered via Alipay, China's widely-used mobile payment app. In two weeks, over 6.6 million people have watched the AR animation and received small amounts of gift money delivered over the app, Coca-Cola says.

China has embraced mobile payment faster than other markets, and Alipay, affiliated with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, has over 520 million users. Every day, people use Alipay to scan QR codes and pay for things; during the Coke campaign, they can also scan the clay doll characters anywhere they find them, such as on ads or in packaging.

Scanning the images unlocks Alipay's augmented reality function, and cartoon animations of the dolls blend with scenes of the real world that users see through their smartphone camera, similar to how Pokémon Go works. In the AR animations, the characters throw snowballs or hug, then deliver holiday wishes. After the animation plays, the user gets a "red envelope" of anywhere from .1 to 99 renminbi, from about 1 cent to $15.50. The exact sum is a surprise, part of the fun. Gifting cash-stuffed red envelopes is a tradition during the holiday, and red envelopes have become widespread in China's virtual world too, a kind of digital coupon.

People can use the money on whatever they buy through Alipay; it's not a coupon just for Coke products. Coca-Cola and Alipay partnered last year on a smaller-scale holiday digital effort, but this year the tech is more advanced. The partnership is win-win. Coca-Cola's message gets spread on an app that Chinese people use every day, with a fun AR twist. And Alipay, which is locked in a competition with rival Tencent Holdings' WeChat payment, gets extra exposure through Coca-Cola's campaign, which is running on TV, in-store, out-of-home, in movie theaters and in digital.

Isobar Shanghai is the digital agency, Dentsu Aegis Media Shanghai is the media agency and McCann Shanghai handled creative. Coke and McCann Shanghai debuted the clay figurine characters for a time starting in 2001. Coke and McCann brought them back four years ago, and they've been successful, which is why they come back every year. Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey mentioned during the 2017 first-quarter earnings call that improved performance in China had been "driven by a strong Chinese New Year campaign."