Marketers' Toolbox: The Power Of The Road Trip In China And India

25 Apr 2012|Added Value

Citing recent examples where storylines built around road trips proved successful, Jerry Clode, associate director of cultural insight for Added Value, explains how brands can exploit the emotional impact such stories can generate—particularly in China.  Written originally for Campaign Asia.

The adventure and romance of road trips is increasingly capturing consumers in China and India. However the expression in India is more global, suggesting considerable untapped potential for the idea in China.

A surprise blockbuster in India last year focused on a group of young men embarking on a road trip through Spain. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which can be translated as “You only live once”, follows three college friends, now professionals, who embark on a journey of personal discovery.

Avoiding the fluffy narratives typical of Bollywood, the film details characters taking on their own fears and insecurities—sky diving, running with the bulls, and confronting an unknown father. Not your typical package-tour tourists, the young men are shown to be truly global citizens who enjoy engaging with local Spaniards and their customs.

The liberating storyline, backed by a flamenco-infused soundtrack, was a major hit with urban professionals, who loved a rendition of internationalism that mirrored their own careers and aspirations.

For brands brave enough to back the ambitious project, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was a windfall. The biggest winner was the Spanish tourism authority Turespana, which saw a mini tourism boom of the lushly filmed scenes showcasing the nation’s marquee carnivals and location. In homage to the film, Mumbai even held its own version of the famous La Tomatina tomato-throwing festival.

Sponsoring brands such as Land Rover and Mountain Dew were also able to tap into the emotional connection local consumers made with the film.

Wrigley's Extra serialised campaign in China

Interestingly, a road trip also provided the context for one of the most popular recent campaigns in China, particularly amongst young professionals. Wrigley’s Extra presented a serialised love story of two strangers who travel together on a motorbike, with the love interests played by popular Taiwanese actors Eddie Peng and Kwai Lun-Mei. A continuation of an initial campaign where the two meet randomly at gas station in a desert, four further episodes were created to show the pair’s encounters in diverse locations as they motor-navigate China’s interior.

The popularity of the story comes from the “opposites attract” chemistry of the clumsy vanity of Peng’s character, and the brash and comic toyboy-ism of Kwai’s. Avoiding a happy ending, the final episodes leave fans guessing as the two decide to take separate paths on their journeys.

Another China-based campaign that presents a road trip is Converse’s ‘Where do we land?’, in which a Chinese skateboard team is put on a train to Mongolia. Part skate vid, part journey of discovery, the short film shows the challenges of filming skate tricks in Ulan Bator as well as the team spending time in Mongolian yurts. Along the way, the young boarders not only fine-tune their skate skills but also their cultural appreciation and adaptability.

However until now Chinese articulations of the road trip have been limited to China or its immediate backyard, limiting the ability to engage consumers whose lives are increasingly those of global citizens. The spirit of adventure in some ways echoes Chinese media traditions stemming from the revolutionary era, where locations such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Mongolia were romanticized as places where Chinese heroes traveled to spread the word of Chinese civilization.

Looking at the internet in China, there is a real appetite for international adventure. As the wealth and access to international education grows, the idea of a “gap year” is increasingly common. The interest in international travel as a way to develop global and cultural skills makes blogs by young Chinese recording experiences “on the road” popular reads. Examples include the experiences of students studying abroad, global cycle tours and working holidays. A common theme is the process of personal discovery and abandoning of preconceptions.

While in India, brands are able to tap the aspiration associated with a depiction of local “global citizens” abroad, in China this opportunity remains largely unrealized. With a generation of young Chinese teethed on international media and now intimately connected the global community through their education, travel and careers, it seems time for China’s new consumers to see themselves as adventurous, global citizens.

In this context there is a powerful opportunity to create and associate with stories that help young Chinese navigate their emerging role as global citizens. Enabling this aspiration will not only create a liberating image for brands, but also a level of newfound intimacy and relevance.

Wrigley’s campaign image via Campaign Asia.

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