Stand-in Parents

From the “you can’t make this stuff up” file, I read about Chinese advertisers spending hordes of money on ad campaigns starring Chinese Olympic athletes and their parents. Hawking everything from milk to baby products, these ads are embracing the Chinese value of family loyalty. Smiling athletes pose with proud Mom and Dad as headlines float behind them in billboards, TV spots and the like. Problem is: today’s role of Mom and Dad is being played by professional actors.


Talk about completely taking brand essence and wringing the life out of it. “Strong, family values” is a tried and true brand identity that evokes what I like to call “assumptive brand attributes.” These are ancillary messages that stem from your core brand message. In this case, family = goodness = honesty = purity. And how can you stray more away from that than “hiring” people to play the parents? Talk about schizophrenic.

Nothing boils my blood more than businesses that try to contrive a brand. Saying they are devoted to eco-friendly products while destroying the environment; selling beauty products meant to celebrate the diversity of real female body types while hawking “put on our cologne and hot, skinny, big bosomed chicks will have relations with you in an elevator” to their male audience, etc. But to blatantly sell family loyalty and honesty and not honestly use real parents?

One of the advertisers stated that “the athletes’ parents were shy.” Right. Now, being a marketer, I’m not so naive to think those doctors on drug company ads are real. I know all about “camera-savvy” and non-camera savvy types; a shoot is going to go much more smoothly with someone who knows how to pose for the camera and work on a professional film shoot. An old company of mine was going to do a joint ad with a certain telecommunucations client showing a rep in a call center. And they (rightly) demanded in that instance not to use any of the real customer service reps but an actor. Fair enough. But when you are showcasing an athlete – a real person – and people that are supposed to be his real parents, that’s a different story.

Time will tell how the Chinese public responds to such a blatant manipulation of a cultural mainstay. What do you guys think?

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