Budweiser China is no stranger to sports, having sponsored the likes of Fifa World Cup and National Football League China. For its latest “Smart Drinking, No Drink-Driving” CSR initiative in China, the beer company is pivoting its attention to the world of esports.
In an esports-themed short film, popular Chinese rapper and dancer Wang Ziyi assumes the leading role of a fervent esports fan who, while contemplating driving in an inebriated state, is thrown into a virtual esports world, where he must practise stunts to eliminate the evil forces i.e. the temptation to drive after drinking.
At the moment of the victory, Hajiang, Harbin Beer’s virtual idol, arrives as his designated driver, and the message, “HAPI Togther, Let’s Champion for a Zero Drink-Driving Future”, flashes across the screen.
On September 15, the film launched to a captivated audience at Budweiser’s Smart Drinking Gala at China Art Museum in Shanghai. Audiences were also treated to a ‘say no to drink-driving battle’ and dance performance by Wang.
Why Budweiser China’s ‘No Drink-Driving’ campaign and esports is a match made in heaven
Esports has been on the upswing in the last few years, particularly in China. It has the world’s largest number of e-gamers, with the industry generating hundreds of millions of advertising dollars every year. 2020 is shaping up to be an even bigger year for the country’s e-sports industry. Shanghai, having previously declared its ambitions to become ‘the world’s esports capital’, is hosting the finals for Riot Games’ The League of Legends World Championship.
“We definitely see a rising number of young people entering the esports industry and treating it as a serious career,” says Frank Wang, chief legal and corporate affairs officer at Budweiser APAC.
The rise of esports has also been bolstered in a year when people are wary of touching each other - not least because its audience is primarily digital. In the first half of the year, the number of esports users reached an impressive 484 million in China, with 73% of those below the age of 351.
“The pandemic has definitely accelerated the development of the esports industry. We already enjoy long-term working relationships with some of China’s top esports teams. We’re also a sponsor of League of Legends Pro League. We’re going to be investing a lot more in esports as it is the language of today’s youths,” says Wang.
Having that understanding is important - in part because of the upshot in drink-driving among China’s youths.
“The number of young adults driving under the influence of alcohol is increasingly prevalent”, says Wang. “Drinking and driving are both ‘signs’ that one has entered ‘adulthood’. Our key goal is to engage consumers when they’re just on the cusp of adulthood, to ensure they know and respect the law.”
Esports is also a much more engaging way to hit home a relatively serious message.
“We’ve been educating people on the importance of vigilant driving for such a long time, so the ability to come up with fresh ways to hit home that message is very important. If we use the same messaging and deliver it in the same way as 13 years ago, nobody is going to sit there and listen to us,” notes Wang, who is mindful on today’s quick-changing tastes. “If esports is still as popular next year, then we might do another campaign around it, but if young people’s interests have shifted, we’d need to adapt our messaging accordingly. It’s important to keep an open mind.”
For the Budweiser executive, the value of esports goes beyond its popularity among today’s youths. He also draws parallels between the attitudes of esports gamers and safe drivers - something that the esports film teases out.
“Why is it that drink-driving is still so prevalent today? There may be several reasons. Some consumers rely on ‘luck’, or they face peer pressure, or their ego gets in the way. These are big no-nos if you want to become an esports champion. Champions respect the rules and their teammates. I believe this respect of the law and other people is one shared by drivers who say no to drink-driving."
Capitalising on China’s ‘KOL’ market
As for why Wang Ziyi features in the film? Influencer marketing is a billions-dollar industry in China, in part due to trust that Chinese consumers place in social media, and how intertwined platforms like Little Red Book, WeChat are with live-streaming and e-commerce platforms.
Not only is Wang a popular fixture in Chinese entertainment, the 24-year-old is also of a similar age to the campaign’s target audience. He seemed like a no-brainer for a campaign that is trying to put across the message, ‘if you learn to be responsible for your own safety, as well as that of others, your future will have limitless possibilities.
Looking to the future
Wang is careful to note that young adults are only one of the company's target audiences - education needs to start early.
“There was this interesting video of a policeman who pulled over a driver and asked if he’d been drinking. When the driver said no, the child in the backseat told the police he’d indeed been drinking. If you instill the importance of road safety from a young page, it can be very impactful.”
The beer company understand a thing or two about engaging with different audiences in different ways. After all, Budweiser was one of the first companies to promote no drink-driving in China.
“When we began promoting no drink-driving 13 years ago, there was very little awareness in China. Back then, the concept of ‘designated driver’ was still new. Now, it has become a full-service industry. When we started promoting the concept, we had no idea it’ll take off on such a scale.”
These days, a ‘designated’ driver might be a friend who abstains from drinking on a night out, a family member who has agreed to pick you up, or a taxi driver. To encourage customers to say no to drink-driving, Budweiser China has also partnered up with taxi-hailing partner Xiangdao Chuxing for an integrated online-offline campaign that gives away public-service ride coupons across the country. On the event day, more than 10,000 Budweiser employees across the country voluntarily took to the streets and walked into restaurants and alcohol shops, joining sales teams in co-advocating no drink-driving to consumers.
Promoting no drink-driving could also be as simple as giving consumers more choices – like low alcohol beers.
“People have become more aware of their health since the pandemic, which has seeped into the consumption choices they make. This has led to a rise in demand for low alcohol beers. For example if you’ve just finished exercising, you might be influenced to turn to low alcohol beers,” notes Wang. “Low alcohol beers are particularly popular among younger and female consumers. Low alcohol beers have a much higher percentage of the market in other countries, but they only make up less than 1% of the market in China. I believe there are huge opportunities.”
1. 2020 Global E-sports Industry Development Report by Penguin Intelligence