Best Lunar New Year Ad 2021

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In the world of Lunar New Year brand storytelling, time seems to have stopped. 2021 is yet another year of same old same old commercials… 

[NOTE: Spoilers ahead]

In Singapore, all ads are tactical sales driven ones. Although Singtel presented a “branding” spot, there were too many cheap shots at product placements with the plot written solely for that purpose. I did like the idea of some sort of continuity from last year’s spot using the same cast though.

It is hard to ignore the fact that the covid-19 pandemic has impacted our lives for the past year. It is however, a delicate subject as there are lots of superstitious people who wants to focus only on the positives and good luck. It is easier for brands like Walch that has relevant products but kudos to them for also venturing into vertical formats for mobile advertising:

The use of “zoom” meetings and the mention of visitation limits in Singapore (8 persons per day) were common creatives. SCS butter has a simple spot but not much of a story:

But back on the topic of good brand storytelling, I looked forward to Apple China with eager yet nervous anticipation. After all, they have been alternating between great and drab and after last year’s brilliant spot, I was hoping they can break the cycle (See here for last year’s compilation and commentary).

Alas… I was disappointed…

The spot is based on the traditional folklore that depicts “Nian” as a monster that eats up little children; a tale to discourage children from wandering off on their own. To ward off the monster, the Chinese put up red banners and create lots of noise (from fire crackers to lion dance drums and cymbals).

In the story, a fearless and inquisitive little girl sets out to find out whether Nian is really as scary as the traditions depict. Her parents are “rational” people who have forgotten about the “magic” of the mystical forest. The conflict needed for the drama is set.

As expected, Nian turns out to be just a tame misunderstood monster and it developed a friendship with the little girl. Whatever suspense attempted is half baked as the story pans out exactly the way the audience would anticipate.

The girl is now a tween and is determined to introduce Nian to the family/villagers. Why she chose the Lunar New Year period (with all the stuff that’s used to scare Nian away) is a mystery. 🙄

Obviously, Nian was scared away and in the ruckus, the girl is detained by the unbelieving parents. With no further set up for the conflict between girl and parents, this “climax” is resolved by the girl escaping from her room. Meanwhile, the mum breaks into a wise philosophical conversation with the father, saying that only when we are courageous enough to step out of the comfort zone will we discover new surprises.

The next morning, the family of 3 sets out to look for Nian and the story ends in roller credits with Nian joining the family for reunion dinner. Say whut? What happened to the conflict? Didn’t the girl run away from home? 🤦🏻‍♂️

Unfortunately, this is a case of placing too much emphasis on the usage of the tool (iPhone 12 Pro Max) and suffering from poor writing. The conflict was not well set up (in fact, in an earlier scene, the father tried to reiterate that Nian eats children to try to dissuade the girl from going to the forest alone. This is completely out of character since they are supposed to be the rational ones).

The lame climax was met with an even more lame Deus ex Machina resolution. Totally no payoff for the audience. 😢

With this disappointment, I almost put off writing this year’s review… until I stumbled upon this spot by Alipay:

“Conquering” space is still a huge item that brings pride to the people in China. Pepsico did a brilliant spot in 2019 Chinese New Year riding on this sentiment. In comparison, Alipay chooses to use the (literal) distance between non-tech savvy grandpa and the astronaut grandson as the “conflict”.

“望” (wàng) has two meanings: it is both “hope” (or “expectation” in the clip) and “gaze” (looking afar). It brings out the desire for the grandpa to connect with the grandson who is flying past in outer space on the evening of the Chinese New Year eve. 

At 8 minutes long, is it too long? Well, length is always relative… a boring clip is too long even if it is just 30 seconds and an engaging one is too short even if it lasts 15 minutes. So my advice for my students has always been “Keep it as short as possible but as long as necessary.”

Keep it as short as possible but as long as necessary.

It this case, I do feel it can be tightened. Firstly, the goal for the grandpa should be more clearly defined as wanting to send his blessings to the grandson. With this, the efforts of sending a text message, flying a kite and setting off fireworks are all aligned. The attempt to make a “Hubble” telescope is a comical moment but will not contribute to the narrative and can therefore be removed.

Also, considering the “Rule of Three”, texting, kite and fireworks are enough to establish his intense desire to connect with his grandson. Enough to move the entire village to join in with the fireworks to help out.

Finally, the flash back to how he supported the grandson to growing up is also unnecessary (the desire portrayed earlier would have been sufficient).

Having said that, I really liked the “payoff” which to me is very well done. Although it can be safely assumed that one cannot see the fireworks from the space shuttle, the grandpa had FAITH that the blessings were received by the grandson. Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. We were shown the improbable outcome of the snapped kite reaching the shuttle to confirm that the blessings reached the grandson. But it was inconsequential as the grandson “connected” through his New Year greeting for his grandpa in his heart BEFORE we see the kite. This sequence is GOLD because it tells everyone that it is the heart that matters and our love ones will receive the blessings from our hearts.

The spot ends off with the implied fact that many are apart during this covid-19 season (and not just the grandpa) presented in a subtle manner without typical “zoom” scenarios and masks. It then presents Alipay as the brand that makes it all possible (grouping the sending physical blessings with spiritual ones). 👍🏼

And that to me is the spot that saved Lunar New Year brand storytelling in 2021. 😊 May this be a BULLish year for all! ㊗️新春纳福、心想事成,万事胜意!