Top 3 Youth Day campaigns captivating young minds in China

On the face of it, Youth Day commemorates the legacy of the May 4 Movement of 1919. But it is also a chance for businesses to flex how in tune they are with the hard-to-please younger generation.

The outstanding campaigns from last year’s Youth Day leveraged hot trends in pop culture and tech to appeal to young people, like Tuborg’s rap video and Tencent’s virtual human dance concert. This year gave way to a more reflective style as brands strove to show an awareness of the difficulties faced by young people.

Zhenguoli x CCTV: bridging the gap between young and old

The breakneck development of the last 30 years and the political turmoil preceding it makes the lives of China’s Gen Z extraordinarily different from those of their parents and grandparents. Yoghurt brand Zhenguoli (owned by dairy giant Mengniu) cut to the core of China’s generational divide with a moving 20-minute-long film centring on a difficult father-son relationship.

“It’s really you! My intern dad”, made in partnership with China Central Television (CCTV), follows the story of a jaded white-collar worker who resigns from his steady job in favour of following his dream of becoming an artist. His dad is despairing of his choice to give up job security and berates him. This scenario is pertinent in a time when tang ping, the trend of youth apathy that took hold a few years ago, is still hanging in the air as youth unemployment remains high.

But the dad gets the chance to travel back in time and become a young intern at his son’s workplace. There he discovers a new empathy for his son, witnessing the hardships of 996 work culture and catty workplace politics. He also recognises his son’s talent and love for art. The dad returns to the present day, where his son is working as a takeaway delivery driver to make ends meet after quitting his stable job. With a newfound appreciation for his son’s spirit, the dad casually tells him to quit his job and pursue his dreams if he wants to.

This campaign attracted significant buzz on Chinese social media, with the film garnering over 30 million views on microblogging site Weibo and the campaign hashtag “It really is you, the sweetness of youth” viewed a staggering 1 billion times. Netizens praised the performances from the lead actors and expressed their desire to be supported in pursuing their dreams.

The campaign hashtag “It really is you, the sweetness of youth” was viewed a staggering 1 billion times

Strong storytelling is key to unlocking China’s younger consumers, but Zhenguoli harnesses the technique to speak to all generations. In this way, the brand creates a campaign that is both in touch with China’s youth whilst remaining appealing to the older generation, which is in perfect keeping with its core values of sweetness and simplicity.

Bilibili: how to escape inevitable youth

China’s YouTube equivalent Bilibili flipped Youth Day on its head with this tongue-in-cheek “scientific guide to getting older”. The film features Professor Wang Yusheng, a 79-year-old scientific researcher and educational content creator, giving a talk on the three key skills needed to rapidly get older.

Professor Wang mocks the way many young people declare “I’m getting old”, saying they are bragging without having first mastered “losing sleep” “losing interest” and “growing a beer belly”. The film immediately grips the viewer by presenting these aspects of ageing as highly coveted skills, with Professor Wang declaring that ageing is very hard to achieve.

The real shock comes when Professor Wang finally addresses the subject of youth. “In reality, there is nothing we can do about youth. As long as our cells keep evolving and dividing, every part of our brain and body will remain young.”, Wang says in a resigned manner. Here the film cleverly circles back to Bilibili, as Professor Wang urges his rapt audience to stay off the platform if they wish to speed up the ageing process due to the “new friends, new knowledge, and new vistas” they will encounter there.

Professor Wang urges his rapt audience to stay off the platform if they wish to speed up the ageing process

The campaign thus finds a unique and unexpected way to empower its audience by framing youth as the pursuit of new experiences and humorously presenting this as a negative thing. By choosing an elderly live streamer as the star of the campaign, Bilibili also subverts expectations of what a content creator looks like, underscoring the point that youth is a state of mind.

OWspace: relax and reinvent yourself

Not all Youth Day campaigns took place in the digital space. The famed bookstore and cultural hub One Way Street Library (now stylised as OWspace) held an offline Young Thinker Fest from April 29 – May 3 in OWspace’s original branch in Beijing, as well as in Foshan and Hangzhou.

At the festival, guest speakers and members of the public were invited to share personal thoughts on what it means to reinvent yourself and participate in collaborative discussions on the future of creativity and design in an AI-driven world. These thought-provoking topics were explored through a broad range of forums, including round table talks, open mics, live music, and more.

On Weibo, OWspace set the tone for the event, writing “We don’t want to celebrate youth in a hardcore way, we just want to be able to chat and hang out together effortlessly”. In this way, OWspace contrasted its approach with the more hot-blooded and emotionally wrought style typical of the China Central Television Youth Day collaborations. This matches perfectly with the bookstore’s reputation as an alternative to mainstream culture and shows the business’ awareness that young people are not a homogenous demographic.