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Nike stays true to its value while paying homage to Chinese tradition

The First Nike Chinese New Year Ad (2020)

As we enter the Year of the Rat, advertising creatives across Asia offer their favourite Chinese New Year (CNY) campaigns from over the years, as we celebrate the best work from the festive period and hear their views on what is best in class.

It’s that time of the year again for red and gold, packets of money and eating. Lots of eating. Unfortunately, it also seems like a tradition for brands to create awful CNY commercials filled with dated tropes. Cue inquisitive aunties and ungrateful kids living abroad.

Just stop it already.

Perhaps we can learn from the recent Christmas spot by a humble hardware store in Wales. With a tiny production budget, Hafod won the Christmas showdown against the likes of mighty John Lewis by focusing on the heart of why us humans love Christmas. The endearing message of “Be a kid this Christmas” isn’t the brainchild of complex strategic posturing. What it does is simply cut through the clutter with its innocence and a wonderful cover of Alphaville’s Forever Young.

Truth is, the point of the commercial is not that different from how we feel about Chinese New Year. Least how I used to as a kid. It’s a big deal that only seems to grow smaller as I grew older.

My advice is to look at how your CNY spot mirrors the times we now live in. Time Magazine referred to the Hafod piece as the Christmas Ad that is melting icy hearts across the internet. As far as reviews come, that is pretty bang on. With everything seeming more negative than ever, the cynic in us can do with a reminder of what’s pure. Whether you’re in the United Kingdom or Asia.

Honestly, it was a struggle to pick a CNY spot that I truly adore. But Nike’s first festive spot for the Chinese market deserves mention. The brand found a charming way to stay true to itself while paying homage to tradition. There were none of the usual tropes while at it.

Instead, the plot focuses on a generous aunt and a niece who isn’t supposed to accept her generous red packet. What ensues is a delightful cat and mouse chase annually through the years. Till the young girl has grown old enough to dish out red packet as a sign of respect to her elderly aunt. Cue aunt with brand new Nike trainers and the chase continues, albeit now in the opposite fashion.

The casting for the spot was spot on, with nicely art directed CNY feels without being overbearing like others. A tiny detail that I loved was the pay-off in mandarin. It was beautifully on brand. And Chinese viewers would better appreciate its meaning. The English translation that tells you to hold nothing back this new year doesn’t quite capture the same essence. But hey, this was meant for China. So, all in all, an impressive debut from Nike.

Hopefully this year my niece will run away from me as I dish out her red packet. But that right there would be how my story ends.  

Ed Cheong, executive creative director, Iris

Check out the latest holiday ads here, and keep an eye on The Drum's ongoing Chinese New Year coverage.

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