Chinese brands are increasingly turning to authentic storytelling to reach their consumers. Creating this original content or finding the best way to convey a brand concept through storytelling is tricky, however. Chinese brands still tend to skew towards a censored or clean version of the story rather than portraying the raw or emotional version that actually resonates with viewers.
Didi’s short film released this July is unique for this reason, it attempts to push the limits of the traditionally beautified storytelling put forth in Chinese advertising. Produced by Mili Films under the direction and cinematography of Taiwanese native He Nan Hong, the nine minute director’s cut poignantly dips into the life of a Xinjiang family as the husband lives out his last hours of life. The couple, based in Chongqing, finds out the husband has fifty hours to live. Refused service by the train station and airport because of the man’s critical condition, it is an earnest and caring Didi driver in the end who stays by the couple’s side and drives over thirty hours so the man can spend his final hours in his hometown of Xinjiang Province.
This heartwarming film didn’t need any elaborate creative planning or brand strategy, as the whole story is true. Didi did pair with a small creative agency based in Beijing (北京远山文化传播有限公司) for this spot. The content was found through Didi’s annual Top 10 Driver of the Year Awards, where driver’s submit stories to compete for the title of Best Driver of the Year. This initiative cleverly encourages better driving and service while also feeding the brand original and authentic content. This particular story, the only one made into a TVC, was picked out of a series promoting kindness, “择善而行”, in Chinese literally meaning choosing kindness is the way to go.
The director’s cut uses all actors as the talents, but the brand also has a version that includes the original Didi driver recounting the story. Director He was keen to use professional stage actors as he knew a high level of acting skill would be essential to convey the intense level of emotion required. “The woman playing the daughter could cry in three seconds”, Mili Films recalled. The man who plays the dying husband interestingly is actually a person in healthy condition, proving the power of good acting and a really good make up artist.
The shoot was done over a rapid four days, with two in Chongqing and two in Xinjiang. Post production by A-post, with color grading by Flip, took three months to accurately craft the emotional story, which was released in July of this year on Didi’s social media platforms and the Didi app. This meant the shoot took place just as winter was setting in on western China, adding the extra challenge of cold weather, with temperatures dipping to -13 C to be precise.
Mili Films recounts the most challenging scene to shoot was on a bridge in Xinjiang, where production had to hire out more than 200 cars and subsequent drivers to reenact the scene where the cars peel back to allow the Didi driver through. Fortunate for the team, this bridge was not finished so they were able to block off the entire road with local police’s assistance, capturing the scene in six hours.
So engaging is this heart warming story, in the end the audience might forget they are watching a promotional film for Didi. The final subtitles across the screen inform the viewer that the driver took zero compensation for this thirty hour drive. It would be hard to find a brand that wouldn’t want to associate with this generous type of person!
Client 客户: Didi 滴滴
Agency 广告公司: 北京远山文化传播有限公司
Art Director 美术: 彭学林
Production 制片公司: Mili Films 米立制作
Director 导演: He Nan Hong 何男宏
Executive Producer 执行制片: 瓜哥
Producer 制片: 彭贇
Post Production 后期制片: A-cut
Color grading 调色: Flip