Nike’s lunar New Year commercial: Why Nike’s first Chinese New Year ad is a big success

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According to the Chinese zodiac, the coming new year is the year of the rat. Alert, nimble and intelligent, the rat is the first of the 12-animal-cycle. Along with a special Chinese New Year collection, which draws inspiration from traditional Chinese themes such as paper-cut folklore, Nike celebrates the Chinese New Year with its first lunar New Year commercial. Nike’s Lunar New Year commercial has caused a buzz and received favorable feedback from Chinese netizens.

Nike first chinese new year ad
[Source: Daxue consulting, screenshot “Nike’s lunar new year commercial on Weibo”, 4.8M views after 2 weeks]

Nike’s lunar new year commercial: a game of cat and mouse

Nike’s lunar new year commercial is a story spanning decades about the battle between a polite niece and her determined auntie. Every year during the Chinese spring festival, the tenacious auntie insists on giving her niece a red envelope stuffed with money, and, every year, the little girl politely refuses to accept the gift. Due to the stubbornness of both sides, they have turned red-envelope-giving-and-refusing into a competitive sport.

At the beginning of the ad, the audience thinks that the refusal of the little girl is a “play hard to get” strategy to appear polite and well-behaved. However, as time passes, the little girl becomes a schoolgirl, then a college student. She races away from her extremely generous aunt, who chases after her niece across the first through the city, and then the countryside. As a result, the aunt’s insistence always wins. Come to the technology age, she even outsmarts her niece by sending her countless virtual red envelopes via smartphone.

Jump to many years later

The little girl already has her own family with her own little girl. Yet, the battle does not stop there. Now she is old enough and entitled to give her beloved auntie red envelope on Chinese New Year. At the end of the commercial, the auntie appears at the door and the Chinese audience thinks that, finally, the niece will have her “revenge” after so many years and give her aunt the red packet. However, the camera turns back to a pair of Nike running shoes on the auntie’s feet and the “come after me if you dare” look on her face. A new chasing competition begins, however this time, the other way around. The aunt may be getting older, but she does not plan to give up. Like the slogan at the end of the ad – 新年不承认(Hold Nothing Back This New Year).

Nike Chinese lunar new year commercial
[Source: Daxue consulting, screenshot “Nike’s lunar new year commercial-hold nothing back this new year”]

Why has Nike’s lunar new year commercial generated buzz on Chinese social media?

In China, a red envelope or a red packet (known as Hóngbāo in Chinese, 红包) is a monetary gift which is given during holidays or special occasions such as weddings, graduation or the birth of a baby. Everyone in China is familiar with red envelopes, and most Chinese millennials have been taught to refuse gifts, including red envelopes. Refusing gifts is considered a good manner, to not appear greedy or taking the present for granted. 

Nike has taken a very smart approach on the Chinese hong-bao tradition and presented it humorously and playfully. According to Nike, even though the festivities of Chinese New Year, they try to remind the audience to celebrate and have fun; to stay active during a season of plentiful eating. Chinese consumers start to appreciate the efforts put into a campaign and how much a brand understands their culture. The chance is much higher for international brands to gain more favorable feedbacks among Chinese consumers, when they feel understood and respected. Nike’s lunar new year commercial has succeeded to do so.

A culturally conscious campaign is a quality campaign.

Chinese millennials are more and more aware of quality. Quality means not only the quality of the product, but also which of a marketing campaign. Simple strategies such as celebrity endorsement may not have the same impact on consumers as they did in the past. As we can see from the top comments on Weibo regarding Nike’s lunar new year commercial, Chinese millennials on social media can differentiate a brand with the ad itself. They even try to reflect on their purchasing decisions based on their own observation of commercial strategies adopted by brands.

Translations of the top comments on Weibo under Nike’s lunar new year commercial:

Nike Chinese Lunar New Year ad positive feedback
[Screenshot of Nike’s lunar new year ad, top comments on Weibo”]

Everything else aside, Nike is quite good at advertising.

This is not “Nike” at all, oh no, this is absolutely “Nike”.

The ad is quite good. Yesterday I was still fascinated by how impressive Adidas’s new year ad with lots of stars was. After watching this, I think Nike’s lunar new year commercial is even better. In my opinion, brands like Nike, Apple, McDonald and Coca-Cola use less celebrities. Instead, brands such as Adidas, Samsung, KFC and Pepsi adopt more celebrity endorsement. Coincidentally, I prefer using products from the first category. Maybe the style of commercial does affect my purchasing decisions without me noticing.

OMG… How could Nike’s commercial be this awesome !!!!

Tips from local experts are crucial for a successful campaign for foreign brands in China 

For international brands who are not familiar with Chinese culture, it is extremely important to get acquainted with the local sentiment and be careful about the cultural expression. Compare with Nike’s humorous and energic take of Chinese tradition, Dolce & Gabbana public relations crisis in China at the end of 2018 was rather a regret. The brand was accused to be insensitive, stereotypical and disrespectful. “Western brands seeking to enter and expand in China should be aware of Chinese cultural sensibilities,” said Angelica Cheung – Editor in Chief of Vogue China – reported by WWD. “Instead of dictating everything from head office, they would gain a lot from listening to the opinions and insights of their Chinese teams.”

Author: Chencen Zhu

Watch the Nike Chinese new year’s ad:

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