Miranda Yuan
May 19, 2021

How Pepsi's latest campaign triumphed with Chinese social media

It's peachy tune with Li Xian has taken off on Weibo

Actor Li Xian plays traditional drums for Pepsi’s new take on a traditional song. Photo: Pepsi Weibo
Actor Li Xian plays traditional drums for Pepsi’s new take on a traditional song. Photo: Pepsi Weibo

Last month Pepsi jumped onto China’s recent Peach Oolong flavor train and launched its own ‘White Peach Oolong Flavor Cola’ exclusively for the Chinese market.

With an eye-catching video that featured two popular celebrities and a carefully curated Weibo campaign, Pepsi appealed to classical Chinese cultural themes. The brand won over the hearts of its Chinese audience who are increasingly asserting their nationality through their wallets, a trend known as guochao.

The campaign shone the light on the classic Chinese song “A Moonlit Night on the Spring River” (春江花月夜). Chinese listeners would immediately recognize the gentle melodies of the Chinese flute, the sheng (a reed pipe wind instrument), and pipa (a four-stringed instrument similar to a lute). 

But Pepsi didn’t leave it at that – the brand wanted to give the well-known song a makeover to appeal to younger consumers while simultaneously evoking traditional Chinese culture. Cue the electric version of the classical guqin, a plucked seven-string instrument and the drums. Pepsi also released several short behind-the-scenes videos to explain the campaign’s production and the process of giving the familiar song a new life. 

Playing the array of instruments were two of China’s top celebrities, actor Li Xian and singer G.E.M. (Deng Ziqi). Their performance was surrounded by floral spring scenery and an enchanting backdrop that mirrored the branding of Pepsi’s new product. Choosing Li and Deng as the campaign’s ambassadors successfully appealed to Pepsi’s target audience – young Chinese.

How the campaign topped Chinese social media

Singer G.E.M. helped put a modern spin on a classic tune. Photo: Courtesy of Pepsi

Weibo: Pepsi invested heavily in Weibo advertising. When users searched for “#white peach oolong Pepsi cola”, the entire page filled with Pepsi’s promotions, including links to directly purchase the product on Taobao. Customers who wanted to find out if the product would tickle their tastebuds could view how many fellow Weibo users bought, recommended and liked the beverage, and they could also leave their own reviews.

The video hit 6.2 million views on the day of its release, and that figure rocketed to 61.9 million views at the time of writing. To expand its reach, Pepsi promoted several Weibo hashtags for the product launch, including:

A whopping 290 million people viewed the hashtag “#White peach oolong cola yyds” (#白桃乌龙味可乐yyds#). But what is ‘yyds’? While it may look like a typo, ‘yyds’ is actually an abbreviation for “永远滴神” (yǒngyuǎn dī shén) which means ‘forever God’ and has become a popular phrase among young Chinese to express amazement. Pepsi successfully leveraged this emerging buzzword to engage with its target audience.

Pepsi was also spot-on in its selection of Li Xian as a spokesperson, with the hashtag announcing the news picking up 660 million views. So far in 2021, there have been a number of Weibo hot topics relating to Li and he made it onto the Forbes Asia 100 Digital Stars list. Pepsi understood the need to highlight Li’s role specifically on Weibo, and that hunch paid off as his was the hashtag that gained the most traction.

WeChat: Pepsi announced the launch of its new flavour on WeChat with a link to its flagship store on JD.com. An article explaining the traditional Chinese instruments that appear in the song offer more in-depth cultural insights into the campaign.

While Pepsi recognized that WeChat is the best platform to share longer-form content, it also employed WeChat’s newer short-video platform addition – Channels – to promote the campaign video.

Xiaohongshu and Douyin: Although Pepsi did share the campaign video on Xiaohongshu and Douyin, these were not the brand’s focus, with only two posts on the new peach-flavored drink appearing on these platforms.

While Pepsi seems to have neglected Xiaohongshu as a marketing tool, sharing a total of just five posts, users themselves didn’t shy away from posting about the new flavor on Xiaohongshu. Earlier this year, Pepsi pushed its Lunar New Year campaign on Douyin but decided to focus its latest efforts on Weibo and WeChat. Nevertheless, consumers could also buy the new drinks directly on that platform via the brand’s Douyin store.

Cherry-picking the right social media platforms for your campaign

Each Chinese social media platform offers its own unique ways of creating content and promoting campaigns. Pepsi’s differing approach on Weibo and WeChat is a great example of this – the brand understood the most useful marketing features of each platform and played to them.

It can be difficult for Western brands to sensitively integrate traditional Chinese culture into their campaigns, but Pepsi showed how it is possible. The combination of traditional instruments, Chinese celebrities and expertise from a local marketing team meant that it hit the nail on the head.


The above article is part of a Jing Daily series on social commerce. Every month, Dao Insights selects a brand that has used Chinese social media in an exemplary way to gain attention. 

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