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 companies wield in 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 its leading agency. Headquartered in Beijing, BlueFocus Group has 5,000 employees globally, and is reputed for its PR and marketing expertise.
According to BlueFocus Digital’s CCO, Jacky Cai: "As 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, from PR to social-media marketing, from digital to integrated and ‘smart’ marketing. We have a rich client portfolio, [and the] 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 ‘creativity’."
Creativity is prized
In the past 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 for consumers. Since 2015, there’s been a 16% increase in the number of Chinese people who think being creative is more important than being pragmatic, according to the Truth Central report. 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 and KOL marketing. One recent study by Hi-Com showed that 68% of consumers in top-tier Chinese cities are influenced by social media when shopping, while the KOL market value is now estimated at ¥102bn, according to Weibo data. In a 2017 AdMaster whitepaper, 93% of campaigns evaluated 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 ¥8.7 bn – more than 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-sharing platform seen as a rival to Douyin, while Alibaba took over Youku Tudou in 2016.
In a country with more than 800 million netizens, 98% of them mobile, the expanding digital marketing landscape is continually presenting new opportunities for brands. Embracing the notion of promoting a meaningful connection between a company and its customers, BlueFocus Digital worked on a 2019 campaign with JD.com based on a brand film to mark the company’s anniversary.
The four-minute film "JOY Story: JOY and Koi" eschews the ‘hard sell’ to portray the poetic tale of a koi fish who manages to leap through the Dragon Gate and become a dragon with the help of brand mascot JOY – a small, white dog. The lush, dream-like animation is inspired by traditional paintings and filled with elements inspired by myths: the koi symbolises good fortune, and the Dragon Gate customer expectations and changes made by JD.
"The consumers are like the koi," explains BlueFocus Digital creative director Tang Xiaolong, who wrote the screenplay. "We hope that with the help of [JD], 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 five million times and broadcast on CCTV, allowing it to reach a far wider audience.
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 and have an affinity with JOY, and understand its actions.
The technical challenges were numerous. BlueFocus Digital oversaw the screenwriting, character expression, timing and scoring in just 45 days, in a flurry of high-intensity work. Advanced special effects included animating half a million individual hairs on JOY’s body. The film features more than 4,800 frames of continuous rendering.
Through the animated short, JD is carefully aligning its image as a customer-centric brand by choosing to display its brand values rather than focusing on products and promotions. It’s a long game, one that certainly seems to be paying off.
Tasked with introducing Oreo to a broader Chinese audience, BlueFocus Digital constructed a compelling campaign with an approach comprising a host of different mediums. The crux of it lay in the collision between the East and West, here embodied by the Chinese cultural elements of the Forbidden City and the Western sandwich cookie. Oreo devised a range of new fillings with Eastern-inspired flavours to emphasise this.
Termed "co-branding with a cultural filling" by BlueFocus Digital, the campaign was a pollination of concepts that spread far and wide via social media. An impressive flagship stop-motion video featured 10,600 Oreos assuming the form of the Forbidden City, while embracing elements such as traditional music, stone lions, changing seasons and the paths of the moon and sun.
Celebrity ambassador Wu Lei was invited to livestream his opinions on the flavours during a talk show in which he tried to guess what the new fillings were. An interactive video delved into the 100-year history of Oreo against the backdrop of the origins of the legendary Forbidden City. The adept campaign was a resounding success across every metric. On Tmall’s Super Brand Day (May 23) alone, 760,000 boxes of the Forbidden City-themed Oreos were sold, and Oreo’s online store recorded an increase of 260,000 fans and followers. The campaign video attained 110 million views, the talk show logged 1.5 million, the interactive video has been watched 1.2 million times, and UGC from the campaign has been viewed more than 1.29 billion times.
Brands such as JD and Oreo are increasingly investing in campaigns like this as they seek deeper, more lasting connections with customers. In a discordant world, investing in creativity and trying to create harmony with consumers allows brands to create a story worth telling; then, in the right hands, tell it successfully.