Year of the Dog

As China rang in the Year of the Dog last week, acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Peter Chan debuted a new short film, “Three Minutes,” about the importance of visiting family for special holidays.

The film is a true story, and is touching and sad. A mother works as a train conductor, shepherding hundreds of passengers to their hometowns along the Naning to Harbin line—a journey that lasts six days. Unable to spend the time with her son for Chinese New Year, she arranges for her sister to bring the young boy to the platform at her home station so that they can spend three minutes together before the train takes off again.

One thing to point out: Under the opening title card, a subtitle reads “Shot on an iPhone X,” and the last, lingering shot of the film is emblazoned with the Apple logo.

According to AdWeek, Apple has lost market share in China over recent years, due to negative press and aggressive marketing efforts from rivals like Huawei. In terms of scale and dollars, Chinese New Year is on par with Christmas in the United States. The launch of this film to coincide with this season is not a mistake; this film’s hidden agenda is to pull heartstrings and pursestrings.

So the question is: Is this advertising or is this art?

As branded content continues to blur this line more and more, it is becoming harder and harder to tell. Personally, I think that is a good thing. I’m all for a quid pro quo relationship to new forms of advertising. If the price of admission to a film like “Three Minutes” is knowing that it was underwritten, sponsored and produced by a company like Apple with the aim to advertise, I’m happy to buy a ticket.