Independents Top Advertising Picks: ‘Nian’ – Apple (2021)

As we look back at the recent festivities of Chinese New Year this year, it seems befitting to celebrate an impactful advertisement that’s Chinese New Year themed in this week’s Independent’s Top Advertising Picks. (Check out the other top Independents’ Advertising Picks here and here).

Independents’ Top Picks celebrates and explores some of the most creative and iconic advertisements of our time. We recognise the craft, depth, creativity and impact these memorable advertisements have achieved. Subscribe here to receive the latest weekly picks. Want to recommend an advertisement of your choice? Drop us a note at [email protected]

Our pick is the “Nian” by Apple that was released in January 2021. This advertisement was directed by Golden-globe nominated director behind “The Farewell’, Lulu Wang and her team.

This short film is the latest addition to a series of Chinese New Year advertisements produced by Apple since 2018 that are directed by award-winning film-makers and shot entirely on the latest iphones. 

Check out the past Chinese New Year advertisements here: 

2018: “3 Minutes” by  Kexin Chen (Shot on the Iphone X)

2019: “The Bucket” by Peter Chan Ho-san (Shot on the Iphone X)

2020: “Daughter” by Theodore Melfi (Shot on the Iphone 11 Pro)

This fantastical themed short movie appears to be set in the 1990s and is a contemporary exploration of the legendary Nian – a monster that’s said to have terrorized villagers around the time of Chinese New Year, and destroyed crops and their livestock. This short film explores Nian through the eyes of a little girl, Ah Ting – who despite the repeated warnings of her parents, remains undaunted and decides to find out about the Nian herself. Her fearlessness scares her parents – who are worried about what the unknown bodes for their child. This film explores her journey as she ventures into the unknown and how her parents respond.

In less than a month since its upload on 29 January 2021, it has garnered over 459,000 views on Youtube.

Here are 3 things that stood out for us in this ad campaign:

1) Successful storytelling without compromising objective of promoting the iphone 12 pro max.

Most Chinese New Year advertisements take either the emotional route of tugging at your heartstrings or the exaggeratedly hilarious route. However, this often comes at the expense of a clear and impactful connection with the brand or product. Try too hard to build a connection and it falls flat as being overly contrived. Others have succeeded in building viral tear-jerking or laughter-inducing advertisements but which fail miserably at brand recall – ie. the reason the ad was made in the first place.

We think Apple balances this artfully – by shooting the entire advertisement with their latest iphone 12 pro which allowed them to tell a meaningful story whilst proving the key point effectively: this is what our iphone cameras are capable of. The shoot had to be done in both an outdoor and indoor setting with enough close-ups and macro shots whilst Lulu Wong directed remotely from the US (due to travel restrictions), which not only pushed the creative and technical capabilities of the iphone to its extreme, but showcased that directing and overseeing the film production crew team remotely from start to finish was possible. 

Who says you need to tell your brand or product story within the story? Why not use your product to tell the story itself? 

2) The Ad explored a powerful question: What are your truths based on?

A successful advertisement almost always explores a meaningful theme. In the case of Nian, it explores the dynamics within a family including the dichotomy between parents and children as they grapple with feelings of discomfort of what the future brings.

Director Lulu Wang shared in a recent interview how she also wished to convey the personal struggle her parents faced whilst raising her up. She wanted to demonstrate the mixed feelings parents like hers felt in wanting their child to achieve much more than they ever had, but at the same time remaining fearful of what the unknown brings with it.

The Nian symbolises the unknown. In today’s world, where fear and uncertainty reigns high, the relevant questions evoked in ‘Nian’ of “What are you afraid of, and why?” What assumptions are your truths based on?”, and “What can I learn from those around me?” help us reflect on our own personal situations in life. Also, importantly, raising these serious questions through the eyes of an innocent child like Ah Ting has softened its delivery to allow for better reception.

3) The right craftsmen can create magic with the simplest tools.

Whilst the iphone 12 pro max was clearly no simple tool and it is likely to have been used with accessories like drones, microphones and additional lighting in this shoot, making claims that it can match top professional cameras is still by all measures a stretch. Unless proven otherwise, that is. The high quality cinematography of Nian is testament that when placed in the hands of a skillful crew, even a relatively modest mobile phone can prove to be an advantageous piece of equipment.

For instance, the crew took advantage of the compact footprint of the iphone 12 pro max to achieve unique creative shots and angles such as placement within the Nian’s mouth, in the sink, and more.  This coupled with director Lulu Wang’s heavier reliance on her crew as a result of her need to remotely direct the crew from the US due to COVID travel restrictions proved that it was possible to deliver the high quality cinematography expected with the right team.

We take a moment to recognise the stellar individuals who brought to life this:

Director Lulu Wang

Cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano

 Film editor Matthew Friedman

Music composer Alex Weston

Production designer Yong Ok Lee

TBWA as creative agency, and

What are your thoughts on the Nian advertisement?

Tell us what you liked, or disliked in the comments section below!

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