How to make your brand go viral: branded mini movies in China

Mini movies are short cinematic creations shot for a specific product or brand. The general duration is less than 30 minutes. Branded mini movie was born with the development of new media technology and has become an emerging marketing tool in recent years. The essence of branded mini movie is information dissemination aimed at demonstrating the brand values and messages with commercial purposes. But what should brands take into consideration in order to effectively use branded mini movie as a marketing tool?

Decade’s worth of branded mini movies in China

The recent explosion in mini movies responses to the fact that the attention span of Internet users is plummeting, thus the demand for short but powerful message and content is larger than ever. The Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan used to say that “The medium is the message”. The boom of social media platform laid a solid baseline for mini movies to spread the voice in diverse online channels. Branded mini movies stand out due to their strong narrative, smooth storyline, implicit and natural advertising placement, thus making them widely accepted by the public.

The first success of branded mini movie bears this out. Touch and Go, a 90-second Cadillac commercial mini movie starred by Daniel Wu in 2010, is recognized as the first branded mini movie in China. In just 90 seconds, the shape, power, and configuration of Cadillac SLS 2.0T are fully presented. Statistics showed that Touch and Go reached 100 million views online and about 870,000 reshares on Weibo within a year after the release.

Following the first success achieved by Cadillac, mini movies have moved to the forefront as an effective and timely marketing tool and more and more brands are willing to convey their message in the format of mini movies. Also luxury houses such as Prada, Louis Vuitton, Swarovski, and Cartier have employed mini movies for their marketing campaigns.

What makes an impactful branded mini movie?

Unlike the earlier generation of branded mini movies, which were mostly championed by luxury brands showcasing products through the cinematic medium, the recent branded mini movies boom targets a broader range of consumer goods aiming at creating strong brand values with high-profile content. In recent years, mini movie marketing has become a regular activity for many brands, and many companies even produced mini movies on their own. For example, Alibaba Pictures was founded by Alibaba in 2014.

Storytelling matters for branded mini movies

Regarding the commercial purposes of branded mini movies, the three ingredients for an effective advertising should be taken into consideration – summarized by the acronym ROI – Relevance, Originality, Impact. Mini movie advertising creates a catchy atmosphere by involving the audience with their characters, stories and products to effectively convey the brand message. Mini movies are required to be original and creative, thereby arousing sympathy in the audience and establishing an emotional bond between the audience and the characters. Commercial mini movies usually deal with topics related to strong interpersonal relations such as family and friendship. By leveraging emotions and nostalgia, mini movies build a strong connection between what the audience sees on the screen and the company behind it, thus bringing brands closer to their audience.

“What is Peppa” achieved a great success on Weibo

The mini movie What is Peppa? (啥是佩奇?) was shot as a trailer for the Alibaba Pictures co-production Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year (小猪佩奇过大年) in 2019, and became a must-watch piece. It details the touching efforts of a rural grandfather to figure out what Peppa Pig was, since his city-dwelling grandson wanted it as a present. The film racked up several hundred million views across streaming media platforms and the Chinese hashtag for #WhatIsPeppa was viewed nearly 1.5 billion times on Sina Weibo soon after its release.

peppa pig in china
Source: Baidu Baike, What Is Peppa

Brands involve professional filmmakers and actors to wow the audience

In the development of mini movie marketing, it is also worth mentioning that the boundary between branded mini movie advertising and movies in China is reducing, and it has been fully integrated in the content ecology. Brands are focusing on content to produce high-profile mini movies to improve viewing experience.

More and more professional film experts have joined the creation of branded mini movies. Apple’s three consecutive Chinese New Year micro-movies collaborated with famous directors like Peter Chan and Jia Zhangke. In the one released in 2017, the production team is getting luxurious, involving the Academy Award nominated film director Theodore Melfi, Chinese Best Actress Zhou Xun and 2020 Golden Globe nominated film director of photography Lawrence Sher.

apple mini movies for Chinese New Year
Source: Apple, Chinese New Year mini movies

Brands collaborate with trendy movies and renowned TV series for shooting their mini movies

Brands leveraged well-known movies and TV series to present their mini movie as a sort of extra chapter and causing buzz. In 2019, Haier made a mini movie titled Promise Hidden in the Refrigerator (藏在冰箱里的约定), which could be regarded as an extra chapter of the trendy movie My People, My Country (我和我的祖国). The story conveys Haier’s decade-long commitment as a domestic brand. By collaborating with the hot movie IP, the mini movie reached 10 million views on the first release day.

Pepsi began to shoot a series of Chinese New Year films under the title Bring the Happiness Back Home (把乐带回家) in 2012, typically featuring celebrities and creatively aligning the holiday narratives of family gatherings with Pepsi products. The most successful of these was the 2017 film that reunited the cast of the hugely popular mid-2000s sitcom Home With Kids (家有儿女). The reunion of the cast successfully took people in front of the screen back in time to ten years ago and sparked a hot discussion online.

Pepsi x Home With Kids
Source: Pepsi, Bring the Happiness Back Home 2017

Don’t miss this year’s branded mini movies

Undoubtfully, brands engaged in launching their own commercial mini movies this year as well. Daxue Consulting highlighted the branded mini movies that you won’t want to miss.

Arena of Valor x China Xinhua News Network Corporation (CNC) – New Year Express

It is a story of Ma Guang, the courier, who was assigned to deliver the last package before Chinese New Year. With the help of his online friends met in Arena of Valor, Ma Guang successfully delivered the package during New Year’s Eve. Like Ma Guang, there are many logistics employees working during holidays to facilitate people’s everyday life. Arena of Valor leverages the mini movie to stress on the team spirit and tribute to those normal but magnificent people who are serving the community even during holidays.

JD.com – Back

The mini movie Back consists of three small clips, respectively focusing on the three industries of film and television, sports, and aerospace. The plot of the film is based on real-life stories, dealing with current hot topics. Instead of putting the spotlight on popular figures, Back is leading the “hero behind the scenes” to the front of the stage:

  • A backstage staff member who contributed to shoot successful action movies
  • A trainer coach of the national short-track speeding skating team
  • An astronaut who has been trained for 20 years but has never been selected to get into space

The story is connecting with the brand message of JD.com that they will provide support and guarantee through the entire shopping journey.

Apple – The Comeback

Apple China has annually released a mini movie shot via iPhone during Chinese New Year since 2018. This year, the mini movie has been shot on iPhone 13 Pro to depict the story of a stuntman who achieved his dream of being a director step by step. It is designed to encourage everyone not to stop believing in their own dreams, even though they break your heart. Moreover, Apple also released a behind-the-scenes of shooting via iPhone, which is a great showcase of the iPhone camera functions. The iPhone does not appear in the mini movie, but the viewer’s awareness of their role in telling such compelling story is enough to convey the strong brand message.

Take-aways on branded mini movies in China

  • Content is important. Even with commercial purposes, branded mini movies should find the balance between the storyline and commercial showcase.
  • High-profile production on branded mini movies is appreciated
  • Chinese branded mini movies were vigorously released for Chinese New Year, which is the most important and beloved holiday in China. Brands in general tend to intensify their marketing activities during Chinese New Year.
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