Oreo has made an unlikely pairing for it's latest China campaign, and we're not talking about green tea Oreos or the host of other local variations (ice-cream flavor, anyone?) introduced by the Nabisco division of Kraft-now-Mondelez.
It's an irony of history that Oreo's new China spokesman, film director Feng Xiaogang, was last found at the helm of Back to 1942 (一九四二), last year's three-hour, brutal epic about the Henan family that killed at least three million people.
But then again, Feng Xiaogang's career is full of little ironies. He's one of China's most popular directors of the last decade and yet almost nobody has heard of him in Hollywood. For Oreo, a western brand that has localized for the China market better than almost anyone, it makes him a perfect choice. Oreo's localization strategies like cucumber flavors and square shapes have won it press accolades and, more importantly, leagues of happy customers.
"You write it. I'll shoot it" is the message of Oreo's new Feng Xiaogang-centered "Parent and Child Moments" ("亲子一刻”) campaign. "I am Feng Xiaogang. I'm a director and I'm a father," reads the microsite for the promotion, onlyoreo.com.cn, where Feng invites consumers and fans to send ideas via the QQ social network. It's a crowdsourced branding campaign not unlike the one American director Ron Howard is heading up for Canon's "Imagin8ion" short film project.
"Feng Xiaogang is essentially known as the father of contemporary Chinese commercial cinema," says Kevin Ma, English Editor for LoveHKFilm.com. Ma says the director is "the only name that practically guarantees commercial success." While Feng has recently been attached to dramatic epics like Aftershock and 1942, he's endeared himself to China through films like Be There or Be Square, Cell Phone and If You Are the One, all sharp-witted cultural comedies that use a spoonful of sugar to dissect China's zeitgeist. Big Shot's Funeral, a 2001 satire about a Hollywood director's woes trying to film a remake of The Last Emperor, is maybe the only Feng film any western audience would recognize.
Ma says that Feng knows China's audiences "respond better to tearjerker elements than spectacle" and that "the Oreo campaign is just another step in that direction." The teaser video shot by Feng to launch the campaign (Youku) clearly eschews easy jokes and spectacle in favor of an emotional brand connection based on father-son relationships. Using a child's perspective, the ad craftily projects onto parents what they would like to believe their children think of them but never say.
Ma says that Feng's commercial instincts are incredibly attuned. And Oreo is not the first to try to tap into that sense. The director has partnered for public service announcements promoting "civilized behavior" as well as ads promoting environmental protection. He has appeared alongside the talking M&Ms, and six years ago he did an odd, 8-minute social satire branded film for Yahoo! China.
More recently, Feng appeared alongside his favorite star, Ge You, in a series of ads for E人E brand tablets.
What Oreo can teach other brands is that product localization is not enough. Messages need to be localized as well. Feng is not Oreo's first Chinese spokesperson. In 2011, the brand partnered with Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming for a campaign. Compare that to brands like Cadillac, that turn to talent like Brad Pitt (driving though "San Frangeles" no less) to connect to Chinese consumers.
Turn to Chinese stars to sell to Chinese conusmers—imagine that! Oreo did.