Papi Jiang rose to celebrity in China with sassy internet video monologues that were part comedy sketch, part commentary on the absurdities of society. For example, she just mocked families' tendency to compare income and test scores at Chinese New Year get-togethers. She has over 22 million followers on Weibo, China's take on Twitter, and she's become a sought-after pitchwomen for brands targeting the generation born after 1990.
Her latest ad is for New Balance, and the spot by J. Walter Thompson Shanghai shows an unexpected introspective side to the comic star. While she usually speaks in a squeaky, speeded-up pitch on camera, this video mostly uses her real voice. "Seriously, I am not always funny," she says, touching off a montage of shots depicting her less glamorous past, like hanging out on a dorm room bunk bed and scrubbing clothes in a sink. There are a lot of jogging scenes too. JWT says Papi Jiang, whose real name is Jiang Yilei, is herself a runner.
The video is part of New Balance's "Letter To My Future Self" campaign. The global campaign features professional and Olympic athletes across various sports, but for China the brand only focused on running, an engine for the business in China, J. Walter Thompson said. Papi Jiang is the only amateur athlete in the campaign, whose international stars include U.S. runner Boris Berian and Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic.
In China, New Balance's message "is that running is not only about performance, but also should become a lifestyle, running will not only shape your body, but it also could change your mindset and even your life," the J. Walter Thompson team said in an email. Running wasn't always a big thing in China, but it has been gaining fans as China gets more health-conscious.
Papi Jiang shot onto the scene over a year ago with low-budget videos filmed in a messy apartment. She was briefly targeted by censors who objected to swearing in her videos, but that didn't derail her career. In December, Ad Age and Creativity put her on the Creativity 50, our list of the year's most influential creatives; that honor gets a quick reference in the New Balance ad.
For her first foray as a brand pitchwoman, Papi Jiang auctioned off a video ad slot and wound up with $3.4 million from a cosmetics e-commerce platform backed by Alibaba Group. Since then she has touted products for L'Oreal and made a surprisingly glamorous appearance in an ad for Swiss luxury watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre.