Amid the stifling heat, a curious advert began appearing across Chinese metro stations this summer. It hovered in the air and looked like a misty waterfall promising cool relief for passengers — a holographic illusion as it turned out and the latest innovation from Nongfu Spring, China’s most popular bottled water brand.
On Sept 8, the Hangzhou-based company arrived on the Hong Kong stock exchange in spectacular style. Its share price increased 60 percent in the first three days of trading, raising more than $1 billion and turning founder Zhong Shanshan into China’s third richest man.
Nearly one in three water bottles sold in China bear Nongfu’s serene green mountain label. To achieve such dominance, Nongfu markets its unparalleled water quality — it boasts water-extraction rights at the country’s most pristine sources — and constantly innovates its packaging and messaging.
Equally important have been Nongfu’s strategic cultural collaborations. From sponsoring the hit television show Rap of China and Idol Producer to occupying the tables of BRICS business forums, Nongfu has endeavored to elevate its brand image with diverse partnerships. “In its promotions the brand stands out in an often faceless industry,” says China marketing expert Ashley Dudarenok.
Here, JT highlights some of Nongfu’s most effective culture tech collaborations.
Nongfu x The Palace Museum
Nongfu took consumers on a journey through China’s Imperial home when it collaborated with the museum housed inside the Forbidden City in 2018. Each of the nine limited edition bottles featured an image of a dynastic character (sourced from the museum’s art collection) matched with humorous quotes from pop culture. The campaign succeeded in winning “hearts of consumers and netizens, while generating tons of social buzz,” says Dudarenok.
Takeaway: partnering with one of China’s most visited and best-known cultural attractions offered Nongfu the chance to storytell and connect to resurging domestic interest in Chinese cultural history.
Nongfu x NetEase Music
In 2017, Nongfu created 600 million limited edition bottles with NetEase Music, one of China’s largest streaming platforms. NetEase printed user song reviews on bottles — with themes such as “Leaving Home” or “City Living” — and connected them to theme songs accessible by scanning a QR Code. The campaign saw a 300 percent increase in NetEase app downloads and short-term sales increase sixfold.
Takeaway: a smart integration of augmented reality (AR) with a brand that claims a strong Millennial and Gen Z following.
Nongfu x Pinduoduo
In August, Nongfu reached a strategic cooperation agreement with Pinduoduo and opened a flagship store on the e-commerce platform known for group shopping and large discounts. It sold more than $400,000 on its first day. As Marilyn Ma, Marketing Manager at China Skinny, notes their strong brand image and low cost/high-frequency product makes Nongfu very suitable for the platform.
Takeaway: Pinduoduo will help Nongfu launch special marketing campaigns, gain better access to lower-tier cities, and understand consumer habits and trends through data.
Nongfu x Union Pay
This year, Nongfu used its bottles to host a poetry competition. It worked with Union Pay, China’s largest card payment organization, and invited children to submit their poetic musings with the winning entries printed on bottles. By scanning a QR Code users could listen to Children reading the poem and a follow up campaign saw celebrities read the poems. More than 30 million tuned in to a live stream promotion of the initiative on short-video platform Kuaishou.
Takeaway: beyond providing an engaging activation, Nongfu’s touching campaign was driven by promotion across multiple platforms.