Brands wish China’s gaokao-takers good luck

As 13 million students take their seats for China’s notoriously unforgiving college entrance exam (the gaokao), brands are boosting morale with supportive campaigns and activities.

Food delivery company Meituan offered practical help via its “errand-running” service, which collects and delivers snacks, beverages, and daily necessities to users within one hour. Reminding students to bring identification documents, chocolate, medicine, and stationery to the exam, the brand promoted its service as a saviour for scholars in an emergency. The campaign art plays on scholar of Chinese history, showing Confucius riding a Meituan-branded scooter on his way to deliver stationery.

Others fostered a sense of shared strife, so exam takers don’t feel alone. Douyin pitched in with “Solutions to the gaokao”, a lineup of pep talks from a variety of speakers who have all passed the exam. Peng Kaiping, head of social sciences at Tsinghua University, addressed the question looming in students’ minds “once you pass the exam, is everything ok?”, whilst a young man named Wang Huyi discussed his experience of taking the exam four times and not being accepted into his dream school.

Numerous other brands including dairy giant Yili, consumer electronics company Meizu, and even KFC promoted special offers or released adverts designed to boost exam takers’ morale. The exam is seen as a collective effort, with some families even hiring “gaokao nannies” to tutor students as well as cook and clean for them in the run-up to the test.  

The gaokao is often regarded in China as deciding one’s fate, as a social equaliser that can set lower-income students on the course to economic stability. But pass rates are exceptionally low for top universities, with only 3% of Guangdong’s exam takers scoring the 600 points needed in 2022.

Students taking the exam this year suffered far less disruption to their preparation compared to the past three years’ cohorts, who had to adapt to sudden lockdowns and ongoing “closed management” measures in the run-up to the exam. The gaokao-takers of 2023 can also look forward to a university life free of pandemic measures, imbuing the new adventure with even greater significance.


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