Consumers now have twice as much faith in brands than in politicians, with 81% of people believing that brands can make the world a better place. This finding, revealed in McCann Worldgroup’s 2019 Truth Central report, The Truth about Global Brands 2: Powered by the Streets is indicative of the profound role that companies wield in modern society, and the potential for brands to positively impact people’s lives.
But to harness this power effectively, companies and agencies need to develop a thorough understanding of the people and cultures in their local market. This is a feat exemplified in China by BlueFocus Digital. Set up in 1996, BlueFocus Digital is a subsidiary of BlueFocus Group—and also its leading agency. Headquartered in Beijing, BlueFocus Group has 5000 employees globally, and is reputed for its PR & marketing expertise.
According to BlueFocus Digital’s CCO Jacky Cai, “As a China’s leading agency, BlueFocus Digital has a keen understanding of digital marketing trends in China. Because of this, we can provide quick yet comprehensive solutions for clients, from PR to social media marketing, from digital to integrated and ‘smart’ marketing. We have a rich client portfolio, but equally important is our goal to always produce the best quality work for our clients. This is no small part thanks to our creatives, who know as much about ‘business’ as they do about ‘creativity’.”
In the last year, BlueFocus Digital has extended its creative capabilities into producing innovative, attention-grabbing creative campaigns for clients including JD.com and Oreo.
In China, creativity is king among consumers. Since 2015, there’s been a 16% increase in the number of Chinese people who think that being creative is more important than being pragmatic, according to McCann Worldgroup’s Truth Central report. A willingness to take risks in pursuit of creativity is seen as even more important than trustworthiness: in China, more so than the West, creativity is embraced as a tool for progress rather than disruption.
BlueFocus Digital has placed increased attention on video amid a stratospheric rise in the popularity of the medium in China, along with social video (app-based short clips and live streaming) and KOL marketing. One recent study by Hi-Com showed 68% of consumers in top-tier Chinese cities are influenced by social media when shopping, while the KOL market value is now estimated at 102 billion yuan, according to Weibo data. Some 93% of campaigns evaluated in a 2017 whitepaper by AdMaster used KOLs to some degree.
Video is an increasingly attractive proposition for marketers, as it can be shared readily across various apps. By Q3 2017, China’s mobile video advertising market reached 8.657 billion RMB—over 64% of the total market. Heavyweight companies have been responding in recent years—Tencent is reportedly close to acquiring a large stake in Kuaishou, a video-share platform seen as a rival to Douyin, while Alibaba took over Youku Tudou in 2016.
In a country with over 800 million netizens, 98% of whom are mobile, the digital marketing landscape is expanding and continually presenting new opportunities to brands flexible enough to take them. Embracing the notion of promoting a meaningful connection between a company and its customers, BlueFocus Digital worked on a 2019 campaign with JD.com that involved a short branding film to mark the company’s anniversary.
The four-minute animated film JOY Story: JOY and Koi eschews direct-sell, instead portraying the poetic tale of a koi fish who manages to leap through the Dragon Gate and become a dragon with the help of JOY, a small, white dog who is the company’s mascot. The lush, dream-like animation is inspired by traditional ink paintings and is filled with Chinese cultural elements inspired by myths: from the koi, symbolising good fortune, and the fabled dragon gate, which represents customer expectations and the changes wrought by JD.
"The consumers themselves are like the koi,” explains BlueFocus Digital’s Creative Director Tang Xiaolong, who wrote the screenplay. “We hope that with the help of Jingdong, they can find the life they want."
After dissemination across an array of channels, including WeChat Moments, Weibo, Tencent Video, Miaopai and various WeChat official accounts, the video was viewed 5,000,000 times and broadcasted on CCTV, allowing it to reach a far wider audience than just existing JD users.
It’s the second such film featuring JOY as the protagonist after 2018’s JOY Story: JOY and Heron, released for JD’s CNY campaign, which highlighted the societal benefits of helping each other out. BlueFocus Digital worked hard to maintain the cohesion of themes and styles between the two films, so that audiences begin to feel they know JOY, and understand her actions.
“In the first edition, JOY smiled and looked at the little fish [when it reached the dragon gate],” Tang says. “But then our creative staff and the production staff communicated that it should not be a smirk here. “[It is saying:] ‘You paved the way, and when you work hard, I am always worried about you’." Subtle changes such as these lead the audience to feel a strong affinity with JOY and, by proxy, JD.
The technical challenges of making such a film were numerous. BlueFocus Digital oversaw the initial screenwriting, character expression, timing and scoring within just 45 days, in a flurry of high-intensity work. The advanced special effects included animating half a million individual hairs on JOY’s body and controlling the movement of 300 million individual water particles to create a sense of flow and depth. The final film features over 4,800 frames of continuous rendering.
Through the JOY Story animated shorts, JD is carefully aligning its image as a customer-centric brand by choosing to display its brand values rather than paying attention to products and promotions. It’s a long game, but it is one that certainly seems to be paying off.
Tasked with introducing Oreo to a broader Chinese audience, BlueFocus Digital constructed a deft campaign that took the country by storm with a truly multi-disciplinary approach comprising a host of different mediums that combined to effect a compelling campaign.
The crux of the campaign lay around culture: specifically the cultural collision between the East and West—here embodied by the Western cookie of the Oreo and the Oriental cultural elements of the Forbidden City. Oreo devised a range of fillings for its famous sandwich cookies with new, Eastern-inspired flavours to emphasise the coming together of two disparate entities.
Termed “co-branding with a cultural filling” by BlueFocus Digital, the campaign aimed to unite the two cultures in a way that went beyond the superficial. The outcome was a pollination of concepts that spread far and wide using the power of social media. The campaign’s impressive flagship video featured 10,600 Oreo cookies assuming the form of the Forbidden City in stop-motion, while embracing Oriental elements such as traditional music, stone lions, changing seasons and the paths of the moon and sun.
Oreo’s celebrity ambassador Wu Lei was invited to live-stream his opinions on the new flavours during an endearing roundtable talk show, in which he attempted to guess what filling was in each of the new cookies. An interactive video named One Cookie, All the Flavours in the World delved deeper into the 100-year history of Oreo against the backdrop of the origins of the legendary Forbidden City.
The neatly thought-out and executed campaign was a resounding success across every metric. On the Oreo’s Tmall Super Brand Day (May 23) alone, 760,000 boxes of the Forbidden-City-themed Oreos were sold, and Oreo’s online store saw an increase of 260,000 fans and followers. The campaign video attained 110 million views, while the roundtable talk show gleaned 1.5 million, and the interactive video has been viewed 1.2 million times. Additionally, UGC from the campaign have been viewed 1.29 billion times across all platforms, and the figure is set to rise, with many influential KOLs involved in the promotional activities.
For both Oreo and BlueFocus Digital, this endeavour has been successful in a quantifiable way, measured in metrics. Brands such as JD and Oreo are increasingly investing in campaigns like this as they seek deeper, more lasting connections with their customers. In today’s discordant world, investing in creativity and attempting to create harmony with consumers allows brands to create a story worth telling; then, in the right hands, go on to tell it successfully.