China's Year of the Monkey is coming, and there are sure to be countless primate-themed campaigns. The holiday isn't until Feb. 8, but Pepsi got a head start with a six-minute viral video that's had over 15 million views in a week. It's not about a monkey exactly; it's about a performer who played a monkey in a 1980s TV show. If you're not Chinese, the whole concept requires a bit of explanation.
The retro TV show was based on "Journey to the West," a classic Chinese tale about a clever, mischievous monkey king with magical powers. The monkey king has been China's national superhero since the 16th century.
"The Monkey King to us is like 'Star Wars,'" said Danielle Jin, PepsiCo's VP for beverages in greater China. "The story itself is sort of like Batman or Spiderman meets 'Lord of the Rings.'"
The '80s TV version, complete with retro special effects and stunts, had massive influence at a time when China's pop culture was still emerging.
"For those of us who didn't live in China then, it's hard to grasp how few entertainment channels they had in the mid-80s," and how much of a mark the show made, said Andrew Lok, founder of local independent agency Civilization, which made Pepsi's new brand film.
"It was a family-friendly TV series that was rerun every single year, and when you were five to 15, stuck at home in the afternoon watching TV, you were watching this, from Tier 1 all the way down to the villages," said Mr. Lok, who directed the brand film himself.
The video is part of PepsiCo's annual Spring Festival integrated campaign for China, "Bring Happiness Home," which has run for five years. It tells the true story of a boy who came from a family of performers that has reenacted the legend of the Monkey King for generations. The performer Zhang Jinlai, commonly known as the "Sixth Little Master," wasn't supposed to have the part; his older brother was groomed for it, but he died of leukemia. To play the athletic role for TV, Mr. Zhang had to overcome challenges including nearsightedness.
Several versions of the new brand video are circulating online; the most popular is a 6-minute cut that has racked up nearly 15 million views on internet giant Tencent's video site, and more views elsewhere. "People are looking for longer and more substantial content to view" in China, where the box office is exploding as well, Mr. Lok said.
Read more about Pepsi's year of the Monkey campaign on Adage.com.