The Chinese restaurant and packaged-food brand Wu Fang Zhai released an animated three-minute film for the Mid-Autumn Festival, “The Story on Bridge” (过桥记), which plays on the current trend for traditional Chinese culture in marketing while sprinkling it with modern slang popular among today’s youth.
The brand’s core products are sticky rice dumplings traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival, but is also produces mooncakes, the signature treat of the Mid-Autumn Festival. To promote its distinctive glutinous mooncakes with an oozing, lava-like center, Wu Fang Zhai created a stop-motion animation that plays on the ancient art of paper-cut puppetry and hearkens back to the Chinese cartoons enjoyed by earlier generations.
The story is fairly simple: two men, Butcher Wang and Swordsman Li, from opposite sides of a river meet on the bridge and begin fighting, cleaver against sword. After battling for some time, they are distracted by cute ducks passing below and pause to gaze at the ducks as they confess their tender-heartedness and agree to eat mooncakes together. Viewers are then directed to Wu Fang Zhai’s Tmall shop to purchase.
The artistry of the animation is appealing, and it reportedly took director Liu Jianmin and her team two months to complete the project, which involved cutting pieces by hand.
Viewers have also been delighted by its placement of contemporary internet memes within the historical setting, such as the “straight man” swordsman (直男), the watermelon-eating peanut gallery (吃瓜群众), and a reference to a popular 90s song by Richie Jen (我总是心太软).
The film plays on the dual meaning of the “soft-hearted” (软心) concept mentioned in the song: both the men and the mooncakes appear “hard” on the outside. But deep inside, they are not. Unlike traditional mooncakes with their dense fillings, Wu Fang Zhai’s offering has a softer, mochi-like interior with a runny middle at its heart, instead of the customary solidified yolk of a duck egg.
The campaign was created by Beijing-based digital marketing agency Socialab (S-Lab) and has received an overwhelmingly positive response on social media as well as critical kudos.
Wu Fang Zhai has a history of creating compelling short films. Its “Grainmen,” released last year for the Dragon Boat Festival, told a “brilliantly bizarre” story of grains of rice aspiring to become part of a Wu Fang Zhai rice dumpling. This year it offered the retro/sci-fi “Guesthouse” (招待所) to mark the holiday, reminiscent of the arthouse films of Wong Kar-Wai. The 98-year-old brand has emerged as an unlikely innovator in other areas of marketing as well. It has collaborated with Disney to produce rice dumplings featuring Mickey Mouse, Star Wars, various Disney princesses, and Marvel characters. Last year, Wu Fang Zhai partnered with local services firm Koubei, owned by Alibaba, to open a waiterless, 24-hour self-service restaurant in Hangzhou. All of these efforts show great attention to how a time-honored brand markets to China’s millennials and Gen Z.