CBI Video: Netease Goes Back to the Future With 90s Hits

A retro karaoke aesthetic dominates the music video for the Youdao Dictionary Pen 2.0

To promote a new high-tech gadget, online education company Youdao (a Netease subsidiary) went all in on 1990s pop-culture nostalgia with “Back to School Parents’ Alliance” (开学家长联盟), a branded music video that revisits a beloved sitcom of the era and its hit theme song.

Netease, one of China’s first internet pioneers, has been boosting its focus on instructional technology through Youdao, which is now China’s largest online education provider by number of users. The Youdao Dictionary Pen 2.0, launched in August in time for the start of the school year, represents Youdao’s hardware debut and is part of a broader increased commitment to serve the booming K-12 market. 

The video features a rewrite of the lyrics to “Heartbreak Front Alliance” (失恋阵线联盟), a pop song by Hong Kong band Grasshopper that served as the theme song for “The Fairy Lady” ( 家有仙妻), a family sitcom from Taiwan that premiered in 1991 and became one of the most-aired programs on mainland Chinese television in the years that followed. Humor is used to describe parental anxiety over a child’s education and study habits, while promoting the RMB 799 ($112) dictionary pen as a reliable source of homework help, highlighting features such as optical character recognition and bilingual Chinese-English text-to-speech. 

The three-minute, karaoke-style video features two parents, a grandmother and young boy, all dressed in the aspirational style of Taiwan’s middle-class two decades ago, performing goofy dance moves similar to those seen in the opening credits montage of “My Fairy Lady.”  A logo for the fictional “Youdao Music” is pasted at the upper-left corner of the screen throughout. 

The target customers for Youdao product are primarily those who grew up watching “The Fairy Lady” on television as kids and are now parents themselves. A long-awaited sequel to the series was announced in 2013, but only began filming earlier this year, so in the meantime this video serves as some consolation to the show’s fans. While the brand’s placement in the video is an obvious hard sell, the clever combination of nostalgic elements, from props to editing style, has won over viewers in the way Netflix’s “Stranger Things”  appeals to Americans who came of age in the 1980s, fueling its viral popularity. The video had more than 550,000 views within a day of its release on an official Youdao Weibo account, and another Weibo user’s post of the video has gained more than 2.7 million views. 

It’s one of several successful examples of how Netease, founded in 1997, creates brand associations with the not-so-distant past. Earlier this year, Netease Cloud Music collaborated on a line of socks and underpants with manufacturer Threegun, which was promoted with a 1980s style video ad/informercial. The company has previously run interactive WeChat campaigns around the themes of celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter series and “slipping back into childhood” via animation for Children’s Day 2017

The video was directed by Zhao Baozuo through New Studios Media Group, a platform that filmmakers can use to find crew members and connect with clients.