Apple’s heartwarming new TV ad for Chinese audiences looks a lot like a recent slew of recent Apple ads, striking Cupertino’s now-familiar theme of the power of technology to aid human creativity and bring families together. In fact, it doesn’t just look like those other ads: It’s a pretty close copy of one of them. And in a nutshell, it helps to illustrate why the company continues to succeed in China.
The U.S. Version:
The China Version:
In the company’s well-received Christmas ad, “The Song,” a young woman uses a Mac and GarageBand to record a duet with a recording made by her grandmother years earlier of George Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here To Stay.” In the Chinese version, “Old Record,” the setting is a traditional Shanghai home, and the song is Zhou Xuan’s “Eternal Smile.” Neither ad shows much of the product itself; both were produced by TBWA/Media Arts Lab. According to Sina, the Chinese version was directed by Hong Kong director Ann Hui and Christopher Doyle, the cinematographer of many of Wong Kar Wai’s films.
Amidst fierce competition in China from Samsung and local Android-based competitors like Xiaomi and Huawei, Apple’s made the country a major focus over the past year. CEO Tim Cook has been quite open about how he believes China will soon overtake the U.S. as Apple’s primary market, and the company’s most recent sales numbers on the mainland show how serious he is. The iPhone is now China’s most popular smartphone, and in Apple’s latest record-breaking quarterly earnings, Greater China revenue represented a 157% increase from the previous quarter—a total of $16.144 billion in just the last three months of 2014 alone.
If It Ain’t Broke…
The “Old Record” ad—not Apple’s first in China—illustrates the company’s appeal to aspirational consumers, with an appreciation both for traditional Chinese culture and the sleek aesthetics of a global brand. It’s an approach that borrows from the playbook of other large foreign companies that have had success in China, coupled with an embrace of the country’s growing middle class, consumers who are increasingly interested in luxury goods and status symbols. In Apple’s case, that’s meant a universal image, unadulterated—even copied wholesale.
“They have a global product that looks the same everywhere, and they brought it to China without any compromise,” Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research, told CNBC last week, about the large-screen iPhone 6, which has proved popular among Chinese smartphone users. In a country known for its knockoffs, the phone’s premium price and “designed in California” aesthetic continues to confer luxury status on Apple products in China. In a recent survey by the Hurun Report, the brand was named the most coveted luxury gift brand in China—right up there with Chanel, LV, and Gucci.
Apple’s recent focus on China has also included an expansion and revamping of its retail stores. Cook has said the company would have 40 stores in China by the middle of 2016, about twice the current number. At two of its recent flagship stores on the mainland, in Chongqing and Hangzhou, the company hired a combination of Western and Chinese artists, like the famous calligrapher Wang Dongling, to create giant, attention-grabbing murals. Here’s a jubilant video from the opening in Chongqing (pop: 30 million):
Apple’s also looking to bring some of its U.S. Apple Store magic to China. In an unusual move, the company’s newly hired head of retail Angela Ahrendts has been recruiting employees from the U.S. Apple Stores who are willing to move to China to contribute to the company’s retail efforts there, and greet Chinese consumers with a foreign (read: global) face.
There’s a Confucian virtue to all this copying: If borrowing from the U.S. works for its ads—one of the bastions of Apple’s global brand—closely imitating its U.S. stores probably can’t hurt.