In China, this PepsiCo video about an actor who portrays a "Monkey King" is an absolute beast, racking up, by some accounts, more than 20 million views in two weeks across various versions and platforms.
Created by independent shop Civilization Shanghai as part of Pepsi's "Bring Happiness Home" campaign, the six-minute mini-epic is all about legends—the kind that stretch back for centuries and, more significantly, those produced and shared over several generations by modern media. The video ties in with the Chinese Year of the Monkey, which officially begins Feb. 8.
The actor in question, Zhang Jinlai, was born into a theatrical family. His father, grandfather and great granddad won fame for portraying magical monkeys on tour and in stage and film performances of a traditional tale known as "The Monkey King" or "Journey to the West," which dates back to the 16th century.
One of Zhang's older brothers had prepared to follow in their footsteps, but succumbed to leukemia, so Zhang took on the role. He appeared in a 1986 TV version of the story that apparently aired for decades in China, fusing into the nation's popular culture as indelibly as Star Trek or Star Wars in the West.
Civilization's Andrew Lok, who directed the film, explains the concept in a blog post:
"2016 is the Year of the Monkey. So there will no doubt be a bevy of marketing campaigns showcasing the Monkey King or 'Journey to the West.' How can PepsiCo's 'Bring Happiness Home' celebrate the Monkey King, this mythological simian symbol of irreverence and fun (personality traits rarely found in the heroes of traditional Chinese literature), in a very PepsiCo manner? Believe it or not, it was easy. Because the core values of Pepsi-Cola, youth and irreverence, are the very qualities the Monkey King naturally embodies."
Lok cultivates a leisurely pace, but the narrative never drags or outstays its welcome. Propelled by straightforward storytelling and a pleasingly meta sensibility, it fuses a classic fable of freedom and magic with pop-culture icons—the '80s TV show and its most famous cast member—that themselves have become, for contemporary viewers, the stuff of legend.
Consider: Millions of Chinese across a broad age spectrum fondly recall Zhang's performance. They can remember exactly where they were when the program was broadcast, just like Western consumers of a certain vintage will never forget the theater where they first saw Star Wars, or with whom they watched it. The Monkey King series with Zhang became an important part of people's personal history, a powerful symbol of their youth and cultural identity.
The brand film taps into such potent nostalgia with a story that also touches on timeless themes like family loyalty and duty to one's profession—ideas that really resonate in China.
To its credit, Pepsi shakes the tree gently, with the product absent until the end. This allows the brand to share in the cultural experience, generating abundant interest and good will.
Agency: Civilization Shanghai
Creative Directors: Alex Xie, Stephen Zou, Miya Wang
Copywriter: Miya Wang
Art Directors: Stephen Zou, Andrew Lok
Agency Producer: Guo-Jun Yu
Client Management: Grace Dong, Abby Yu
Production Company: NUTS Film
Film Director: Andrew Lok
Assistant Film Director: Ling-Song Yu
Cinematographer: Ke-Nan Qi
Postproduction: NUTS Film
Editors: Didi Xu, Yin-Jian Lu, Shao-Hua Huang
Producer: Didi Xu
Colorist: Ying-Jie Zhang
Music, Sound Design: Allen Zhang
Client: Danielle Jin, Shine Wei, Lia Pan, Yumiko Wang