Staff Reporters
May 14, 2024

Oreo urges Chinese consumers to ‘stay playful’

In a nation known for over-work, over-studying and pressures to achieve, Oreo seeks to bring back China’s 5,000-year-old culture of play with its new ‘Art of ‘Play’ brand platform in collaboration with Publicis.

Chinese children play for one hour a day on average, the lowest number of hours anywhere else in the world. Stress, studying, and competitiveness have taken the role of playtime, and this pressure continues into adulthood when working 996 hours a week, from 9 am to 9 pm six days a week, is the norm.

However, while modern day China might be notorious for over-working and pressure to achieve, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, playfulness has been part of China's DNA for thousands of years, as evidenced by the invention of some of the world’s most popular games such as board games and playing cards. 

Seeking to remind people of China's 5,000-year-old culture of play, Oreo and Leo Burnett Shanghai have teamed up to build ‘Art of Play’, a platform that serves as a reminder of China's rich playful heritage.

To launch ‘Art of Play’, Oreo took over the busiest subway in Shanghai with the recreation of a famous 1,000-year-old artwork in which ancient toys are replaced with study tools and symbols of academic pressure. The installation sparked a debate about why 5,000 years of playfulness is now forgotten, and the importance of creating more balance in life, in a more sustainable way.

Oreo's installation at the busiest subway in Shanghai with the recreation of a famous 1,000-year-old artwork in which ancient toys are controversially replaced with study tools and symbols of academic pressure.
Then, to bring back the long-lost art of play, toy designer Lao Wang redesigned three iconic Chinese toys: the Luban Lock (2,500 years old), the Kong Zhu (1,800 - 1,900 years old), and the Tangram (1,000 years old). Reimagined in Oreo's distinctive black and white colours, each toy was chosen because it encourages children to be creative, serving as a reminder to parents and teachers that creativity is just as vital as discipline and academic dedication.
The Kong Zhu - one of three iconic Chinese toys redesigned by Lao Wang in Oreo's distinctive black and white colours.
Oreo’s redesigned toys are available for purchase as limited-edition kits on ecommerce platform Tmall together with packs of Oreo cookies. Meanwhile, Oreo is donating ‘Art of Play’ toys to schools around the country, helping teachers to incorporate playfulness into their daily routines.
The campaign has already sparked debate about China's lost playfulness and current obsession with long study and work hours. A national influencer campaign reached 40 million fans across social platforms Weibo, Douyin and Xiaohongshu. The platform has received widespread support from parents, educators and wellness experts, who are now pledging to ‘Stay Playful’.
Art of Play designer Lao Wang
“China is the nation that brought board games and playing cards to the world, but these days, we have forgotten how to play. Oreo’s vision is in our tagline, ‘Stay Playful’. As the world’s most playful cookie, our mission is to unlock playfulness in everyday life. Using toys as our medium, we are reconnecting China with its playful past and starting a conversation about creating a more balanced world for kids,” says Grace Zhu, vice-president of marketing and growth at Mondelēz China.
Natalie Lam, chief creative officer at Publicis Groupe APAC, adds: “Modern China gives the world a serious image of hyper competitiveness, technological innovation, and manufacturing prowess at breakneck speed. The lighter, optimistic side of the culture is often forgotten, yet it is a deeply ingrained truth that has existed for over 5,000 years. If you look at classic Chinese art, the subjects led very enviable leisurely lives—they’re always playing music, appreciating the moon, enjoying nature, fishing, or playing games. We wanted to bring some of that balance back into stressful modern life.”
The launch of 'Art of Play' marks the start of a long-term platform that aligns Oreo’s playfulness with China’s rich history, starting with toy design but extending to music, literature, art and sport over the coming months.
Campaign's take: Oreo has done a great job of embedding its 'Stay Playful' mission and tagline throughout this campaign. However, reminding people that they need to make time to play is one thing, but making that a reality is another.
While the campaign should be commended for sparking debate around China's unhealthy culture of overwork, it seems a little tone-deaf to the reality that a majority of people simply can't afford to work or study less. The current cost of living and modern demands don't allow it. The China of 5,000 years ago and the China of today are vastly different. While the 'art of play' is a nice idea, it will remain just a playful fantasy for most. Systemic change is needed for this to ever have legs. Until then, 'all work and no play' will sadly remain the norm for most.
Campaign Asia

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