When can we see better CNY stories in Singapore?

With more brands jumping onto the content marketing bandwagon, it is no surprise that there are more videos produced for this Chinese New Year (CNY) 2019. I have selected 3 from Singapore, 2 from Malaysia and 2 from China for this commentary although they are by no means exhaustive. As usual, the focus of my review will be on the story and how the brand is integrated into it rather than production quality.

1. Singtel

Singtel is one of the earliest to push out their CNY video. Similar to last year, the setting involved Australia (where they have a significant presence in the form of subsidiary Optus and where there is a significant number of Singaporean undergraduates).

The theme of how the younger generation is losing touch with cultural traditions (like the celebrations of Chinese New Year) has been touched on umpteen times by various brands and local dramas. The story therefore, has little to surprise and engage viewers. Younger viewers may even find the story borderline on being preachy.

In terms of story structure, it is also rather flat: Students are happy to escape from parents. Students find gifts from parents. Students feel the love from family. Students call home to connect with family. There isn’t much drama development (no conflict/tension) and hence the “payout/reward” for the viewer at the end is dismal.

2. Yeo’s

This is YEO’S first CNY video (that I’m aware of) and they have opted to tell a story along the same line as Singtel’s? boy grows up with a yearly CNY tradition. Boy slowly distances from the tradition as he grows up. Boy eventually leaves home to stay at the hostel and gets a major emo recall of all the love of family and wishes to be home.

Once again, this run-of-the-mill story theme does not contain any twists or surprises to engage viewers. Similar to the Singtel video above, it is also flat with no drama and hence no “payout” or reward for the viewer at the end. Such stories do not engage viewers. Brand integration is awkward at best (Yeo’s drinks given with “ang pao” to the child? Since when is that being practised?).

3. Caltex

Having the main lead as a private hire driver is a direct way to integrate the brand which may not be very creative but it works. This story though dwells also on how some dread the CNY festivities? ~yawn? But as the scenarios were written in “sitcom gags” form, it is still entertaining enough to watch the protagonist “suffers” as CNY unfolds. This provided some dramatic elements (conflict) of man vs the “curse of CNY” which the earlier two videos lack. Yet, at the supposed lowest point (guy could have been more “defeated” in my opinion for greater contrast and impact), the resolution was a HUGE let down.

I can accept the slapstick golden glow effect when the guy opens the fortune cookie, but why did he have to ask his Pa to see it? It is needless prolonging of the twist. And speaking of the twist, the “lucky break” reveal at the end left me absolutely speechless. There is no better way to make me feel like I’ve wasted 7 minutes watching a video. Watch it and you’d know what I mean.

Across the causeway, the Chinese creators in Malaysia have a penchant for emotional storylines and I was looking forward to them.

4. Prudential

I like the wordplay on the Chinese title. ???? can be literally translated as “Counting words” or can also mean “Considered conversation”. The premise of the female protagonist literally counting her dad’s limited words tying to the longing for a proper conversation with him is clever.

However, there is no explanation to why the father became miserly in words. This is the “Chekhov’s gun” that was never fired… something which I was hoping will provide the twist after the eventual build up.

Prudential’s intended brand value of “actions speak louder than words” is nicely tied up at the end of the video. It is overall a good video but still no cherry.

5. Petronas

Petronas’ CNY videos have actually become a staple that many look forward to every year.

Although the theme of a busy working child not being able to have reunion dinner with her mother is one that has been used many times, Petronas’ video successfully weaved in the tension and drama (a potential regret of losing her mother) and hence made the eventual clarification a good “payout” for the viewer. The use of medicine dropping on the floor and images of emergency bed wheeling were misdirecting though.

This reward for the viewer makes the story the most engaging in the list so far.

Finally, China’s production has been top-notched in terms of quality by virtue of their astronomical budgets. One of my all time favourite CNY video is “3 minutes”, the iPhone video shot by director Peter Chan last year (apologies for the lack of subtitles as Apple has taken down the original upload).

It was apparently based on a real story which makes it very relatable. The tension (conflict against time) created was excellent.

6. Apple iPhone (China)


This year, Apple engaged Jia Zhangke to film its CNY video entitled “The Bucket”. While it has great cinematography (and big budgets), I felt disappointed with this year’s video. In my opinion, it suffers from the same issues of having an expected storyline and a flat story buildup (with no conflict/tension).

7. Pepsi (China)

My favourite CNY video this year would be Pepsi’s.

Mega budgets aside, it made use of a topic very much on the hearts of the Chinese people (space exploration). While we knew the story will have a happy ending (it’s a CNY video after all), there is still adequate drama and tension built in. More importantly, for such a huge topic, Pepsi is able to bring it back down to the family level to connect with everyone and make it apt for CNY.

So when will we see engaging CNY stories produced in Singapore? It is really not that difficult. For one, we need to start putting emphasis on story writing as much as the aesthetics of film making. Brands can try to move away from safe themes or superficial depiction of them.

Only when brands understand their customers on a deeper level, can they commission stories that relate better to them. This will allow writers to dig deeper into the psychological and societal shifts in order to uncover realistic stories.

I look forward to next year’s CNY videos… 🙂

P.S. I must add that the Pepsi ad did receive negative comments but in my brief scan, they were not from Mainland Chinese. Criticism on “sexist” were rather harsh in my opinion.