When it comes to digital marketing in 2020, it really is a case of east meets west.
Some of the biggest brands in the west have cottoned on to the huge opportunity the Chinese market represents – and they’re moving on it.
Why? Well, with 800 million active internet users and a social media landscape unlike anything seen in the west, the numbers really do speak for themselves.
But big numbers don’t always translate to big success. Competition matters, too. And there’s plenty of that in China.
So, for a little inspiration, let’s turn our attention to some of the world’s biggest international brands – and discover exactly how they’re making inroads within the Chinese marketplace. In this post, we share the top Chinese advertisement examples from the last couple of years.
A combination of messaging, social media, and mobile payment features, WeChat is the most popular social platform in China. Originally released in 2011, WeChat has grown to become the world’s largest standalone application, with more than 1 billion active users as of 2018. Because of its multi-functional nature, WeChat is often regarded as China’s “app for everything”.
Ad Campaign #1: Coca-Cola’s Wuhan special edition campaign
In June 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Coca-Cola launched a campaign designed to show support and solidarity for the victims across China – and especially Wuhan. The new can sported a heart-shaped design and the launch was supported by a cross-channel campaign including article and video content shared on WeChat.
Results: 34,400 views and 2,831 wows with plenty of well-wishes for Wuhan’s residents.
Takeaway: It never hurts to remember that businesses are, first and foremost, made up of real people.
Ad Campaign #2: Levi’s International Women’s Day campaign
Levi’s has always been known for its bold and impactful marketing – and its 2020 International Women’s Day is no exception. Delivering an empowering message of self-acceptance, the campaign hinged on the pronunciation of “trouser” (裤) in Chinese sounding similar to “cool” in English. The core message was about women feeling free to dress, look, and behave in a way that’s true to themselves.
Results: The WeChat article publicizing the campaign received almost 14,000 views along with considerable traffic through the dedicated #妳就型 hashtag. Parallel campaigns on Weibo garnered over 1 million views.
Takeaway: Positive brand messaging, especially around self-acceptance, can go a long way with Chinese audiences.
Originally launched to the Chinese marketplace in 2016, Douyin is a micro-video sharing platform. Despite having a handful of different features, Douyin is essentially the Chinese version of the hugely popular TikTok app. As of September 2020, Douyin offers advertisers access to an audience of 600 million daily users.
Ad Campaign #3: Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us” campaign
Another campaign reflecting the COVID-19 crisis was Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us” campaign. It was all about working with others to make things happen.
This campaign is a great example of a technology and a concept harmonizing, because the “duet” feature of Douyin / TikTok made it possible to create highly relevant video content on the platform. Using split-screen videos of athletic feats spread across Douyin – along with Nike’s campaign hashtag.
Results: Nike’s campaign was a huge success in the Chinese market, delivering 5 billion views and 479,00 videos created expressly in support of the campaign.
Takeaway: Chinese audiences respond well to tackling global issues, like the COVID-19 crisis, in a direct (yet positive) way.
Ad Campaign #4: Louis Vuitton’s “travelling” menswear show
2020 has certainly been the year of change and adaptation, and high-end brands are no exception.
In fact, in September 2020, Louis Vuitton shook up the industry by hosting its first menswear show outside of Paris. Taking place in Shanghai, the big difference here is that only the clothes traveled to the show. Essentially a live-streamed fashion show, the brand took full advantage of video platforms – especially Douyin.
Results: The menswear fashion show received almost 100 million views across digital video platforms in China.
Takeaway: When faced with a crisis, don’t be afraid to try something entirely new. It might just be more successful than you think.
Weibo, also known as Sina Weibo, is widely known as China’s equivalent to Twitter. With more than 445 million monthly active users as of 2018, Weibo is a micro-blogging website with a valuation exceeding $30 billion and represents a lucrative opportunity for international advertisers.
Ad Campaign #5: McDonald’s introduces ‘5G’ chicken in China
Masterfully disguised as an apparent high-tech smartphone launch, McDonald’s announced a brand-new “5G” product in early 2020.
Millions of curious Chinese consumers tuned in to a livestream with the big reveal: their 5G product was, in fact, a new fried chicken meal (pronounced ‘ji’ or ‘gee’ in China) that ticked five very important boxes: crispiness, freshness, juiciness, tastiness and size.
Results: Attracted almost 50,000 likes and 20,000 comments on Weibo.
Takeaway: Thinking outside of the box – and piquing curiosity – with your Chinese ad campaigns might be just what you need to get people talking.
Ad Campaign #6: Audi’s “There is no need to define her beauty” campaign
One of the biggest reality shows in China during 2020 has been “Sisters Who Make Waves” (乘风破浪的姐姐). Based on the Chinese concept of “leftover women”, the show became a smash-hit, giving global auto brand Audi an opportunity to dovetail a campaign with the finale.
The brand worked with 3 contestants from the show and launched the campaign the day before the show’s grand finale. This synergistic approach led to mass appeal straight out of the gate.
Results: The hashtag #Ms.Audi delivered an enormous 97 million views on Weibo, along with 750,000 comments.
Takeaway: If you time your campaigns just right, and even align them with other pop culture phenomena, you can amplify your messaging across Chinese audiences.
Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book)
Xiaohongshu, which translates in English to “Little Red Book”, is a combination of social media and an e-commerce app. Originally founded in June 2013, Xiaohongshu is particularly popular with young women born after the 1990s (Gen Z), making it an attractive channel for high-end fashion and beauty brands. As of 2020, Xiaohongshu has 85 million active monthly users.
Ad Campaign #7: Louis Vuitton live-streaming on Xiaohongshu
In yet another example of adaptability in the face of a global crisis, high-end brand Louis Vuitton made more waves in the Chinese digital marketing scene by holding its first live-stream on the Xiaohongshu video platform in May 2020.
Taking advantage of the user demographic fit, the brand streamed for just over an hour and showcased many products not currently available in store thanks to lockdowns.
Results: The livestream attracted 15,000 viewers during the hour, and was in the top 3 livestreams for the duration. In addition, the brand earned 20,000 additional fans for its official account thanks to the stream.
Takeaway: Trying new things on untested platforms can often be a route to real success – if you can handle the uncertainty.
Tmall is China’s largest business-to-consumer marketplace. It is operated by the Alibaba Group and is an online retailer for brands to sell to consumers in China. With over 500 million monthly active users as of 2018, Tmall continues to offer a huge ready-to-buy audience for international brands.
Ad Campaign #8: Oreo collaborates with Chinese singing star Jay Chou
Few brands are more international than Oreo: the iconic black and white cookie based out of the USA.
As part of its continued presence in Chinese markets, Oreo decided to take advantage of two different brand catalysts in 2020: Tmall’s Super Brand Day (think Prime Day for the Chinese market) and the hugely popular Chinese singer, Jay Chou. The campaign played on nostalgia for both music and food, with dedicated merchandise including a custom music box.
Results: Oreo’s 2020 Super Brand Day campaign resulted in a 20% uplift in transaction volume. While also boosting the follower base for Oreo’s Tmall store by 100,000 users.
Takeaway: Collaborating with celebrities or influencers (KOLs) can be a great way to signal-boost your campaign.
It’s only natural that international brands would want to maximize their reach by launching campaigns across multiple digital channels. Below are some examples of international brands playing the digital field in China.
Ad Campaign #9: Tesla’s entry into the Chinese market
As one of the world’s most forward-looking companies, Tesla embraced cross-platform campaigns in China during 2020. As part of its push into Chinese markets, Tesla established a digital presence and launched campaigns across Weibo, Xiaohongshu, Tmall, and more.
The brand built a user base with competitions and giveaways, as well as leveraging Douyin to create more personal connections with potential customers. It also teamed up with other brands, like Perfect Diary, to further extend its reach toward Chinese audiences.
Results: Tesla’s Perfect Diary collaboration resulted in almost 97,000 shares, 67,000 likes, and 46,000 comments on Weibo. While not directly attributed to digital strategy, Tesla sold 35% more cars in China during June than the previous month.
Takeaway: Sometimes a blanket cross-channel approach can be an effective – if rather expensive – way to reach new audiences.
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