Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Marketing in China: Drinking Red Star in a Smoggy Field

Imagine this scene: two people with bicycles on a narrow road passing by what appears to be a factory emitting copious amounts of pollution and contributing to the smog blanketing a nearby empty field.

Now consider the purposes for which you might use a black and white photo of that scene.

Did you think "that would be perfect to promote a Chinese brand of alcohol"? If you did, pat yourself on the back, because as I waited for a train to arrive at a subway station in Beijing I saw an advertisement for a brand of erguotou -- a type of liquor especially popular in Beijing.

advertisement for Red Star (Hongxing) erguotou

An article on Red Star Wine's website (in Chinese) describes the marketing campaign. No, there is no mention of a strategy to use images of pollution to drive people to drink. Instead, Red Star Wine believes it can connect with younger people by evoking a desire for brotherhood and by tapping into the popularity of nostalgic themes in China through the use of Soviet-style imagery.

Will it work? All I can say for sure is it motivated me, not exactly a main target consumer for Red Star, to buy a 150ml bottle (the smallest I saw) for 13 yuan (about US $2.10) at a local convenience store so I could give it a try.

On that note, here we go...

Not horrible. I definitely have had less positive erguotou experiences in the past. And to me the bottle looks trendier than most other similarly priced erguotous. I'm not sure I'll be tempted to buy it again in the future though. Maybe I should have tried it on ice.

I'm intrigued by the ad campaign and there are many questions it raises to me such as "Do the signs of pollution in the ad have any negative (or even positive) impact on its effectiveness?", "Could a similar strategy be effective for marketing erguotou in  the US, even if it may work for different reasons?", and "Why is the one man walking his bicycle?"

I'll save exploring those issues for another day, though, since I am now confirming something I earlier predicted to myself. Red Star has quite a kick.

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