Mao Condoms

Celebrities and condoms seem to go together, from Bill and Monica to the Olympic fuwa. So when I first saw a tweet about condoms bearing a likeness to Osama Bin Laden, Mao Zedong and Adolf Hitler I didn’t think it was anything worth blogging about. The condoms are ugly and silly anyway and I didn’t think they were funny.

Now however, it seems the German condoms have irritated China’s “netizens,” who are not at all amused. And I can’t really say I blame them. While placing Mao in the same category as Hitler and Bin Laden is debatable, it is not debatable that this was an insane marketing decision, at least if the ad agency (Grey Worldwide) and their client (Doc Morris Pharmaceuticals) want to do business in China.

Something about the whole thing just seems “off.”

Funny?

Funny?

And again, whether the comparison is valid or not, you don’t throw sand in the face of one of your most important markets. To discuss this from a perspective of morality and history is one thing. From a marketing perspective, it’s plainly idiotic.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 24 Comments

The German sense of humour is a mystery to me, I must admit, but I doubt that many Germans will think much of these adverts – they are less than eye-catching. The predictable-but-stupid backlash is hardly worth paying attention to either.

April 16, 2009 @ 8:02 pm | Comment

Actually, if one thinks about it, the idea that the judicious use of a condom can potentially prevent the birth of a Hitler, or a Mao or a Stalin is hilarious.

Of course, I just finished re-watching the German movie “Das Boot”, so my sense of humour may be a bit warped at this point. “You idiot! Before we can get to Italy to do our Christmas screwing we have to get through Gibraltar. All the British fleet is there! It’s tighter than a nun’s ass!”

April 16, 2009 @ 9:57 pm | Comment

Didn’t Mao just encourage everybody to have more children? Wouldn’t Deng condoms be more appropriate? After all, it was under his watch that the Family Planning Policy was initiated.

April 17, 2009 @ 7:42 am | Comment

Just how representative are these outraged netizens anyways? Government objections aside, I don’t necessarily think this would be a bad marketing move. If Chinese consumers can stomach CR theme parks and restaurants, I don’t see what the problem is with Mao condoms.

April 17, 2009 @ 8:05 am | Comment

It’s the association of Mao with Hitler and Bin Laden. I am still amazed at people here defending Mao with great emotion. They resent what they perceive as his vilification by the West and go on automatic pilot when they think an outsider who doesn’t understand China complains about him. 70 percent good is more than a slogan, it is, to most, a matter of fact, and China would be nowhere without Mao. Go figure.

April 17, 2009 @ 8:32 am | Comment

About how representative these netizens are – probably not much. China’s Internet voice, so often cited in stories about human flesh search engines and outrage over a Forbidden City Starbucks and the like, is way lopsided, weighted too heavily by the fen qing and anti-CNN crowd.

April 17, 2009 @ 8:34 am | Comment

70% good? He was an evil, disgusting, ego maniac who hated everyone, especially his “own” people. He should be vilified at every opportunity for the scumbag he was. I find it revolting that such a pig can still have his ugly fat head displayed at the entrance to the Forbidden City.

Richard, your last evaluation is the correct one. The pretense of defending a despicable monster like Mao is nothing more than a rallying cry for scapegoating the West for everything that is wrong with China (most of it caused by the idiotic ideas of Mao!).

April 17, 2009 @ 9:44 am | Comment

Chinese people adore their leaders to a humanly impossible degree, even though Chairman Mao was responsible for much more death of Chinese than any atrocious foreign invader could cause. To the Chines people, it seems that the huge loss of Chinese lives in Mao’s hand and the misery caused by him are acceptable and not so important as the image of China as a world power.

How about Stalin, who was Mao’s mentor and far excelled Mao in the respect of making his country the number 1 superpower. But the Soviet people would not forgive his atrocity just because he did so many great things for the world and the Soviet Union. Russians don’t lack heroes. To them, Stain obviously doesn’t live up to their moral standard as a hero.

Compared to Stalin, Chairman Mao looks shabby, but is still a god-like figure for the Chinese people to worship. For the sake of conscience and morality, no people in the world could adore someone who killed so many of their own people as a hero, perhaps with the exception of the Chinese people

April 17, 2009 @ 10:22 am | Comment

NotaS, I am saying that “70 percent” is the belief here, and I’m not saying that belief has any relationship to the truth. We all can catalogue Mao’s horrors. But the fact remains, he is still revered in an odd way. It is no accident that his face adorns Tiananmen Square and so many other places.

El Chio, I don’t really no where you are coming from re. Stalin and the USSR. As far as I know, the USSR never became the “number 1 superpower.” And Stalin was not Mao’s mentor. Their relationship was stormy at best, and Mao was convinced China was far more likely to go to war against Stalin’s USSR than Eisenhower’s US of A.

April 17, 2009 @ 11:11 am | Comment

“el chino”,

I’m not sure you are teaching English in China or not. Your writing in terms of logic, coherence and factuality is pretty bad.

1. “But the Soviet people would not forgive his atrocity just because he did so many great things for the world and the Soviet Union.”

It sounds that you are the spokesperson for the “Soviet people”.

2. “Russians don’t lack heroes. To them, Stalin obviously doesn’t live up to their moral standard as a hero.”

Despite the fact that Stalin is not even Russian, he was voted in 2008 one of the “greatest Russians” by the Russian “people”. By “people”, I mean there were 50m votes.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7802485.stm

3. I’m not a spokesperson for all the “Chinese people”, so I wouldn’t attempt any generalization. But many “Chinese people” I do know couldn’t care less about Mao.

4. According to BBC, the No.1 hero Russian selected is Alexandre Nevsky, who “fought off European invaders in the 13th century to preserve a united Russia.” Some food for your thought.

April 17, 2009 @ 11:17 am | Comment

True that a lot of Chinese people don’t care about Mao. Some even dislike him intensely. Most see him as having given China “spine” and making it stand up and all that. They are extremely defensive of Western criticism of Mao, at least the people I’ve talked to, which is quite a few. They know all the bad, but still….

April 17, 2009 @ 11:29 am | Comment

Richard wrote: “…and I’m not saying that belief has any relationship to the truth. We all can catalogue Mao’s horrors.”

What you’re saying is that the society is basically MAD since the definition of a psychosis is an inability to deal with reality. (Psychosis is a symptom of mental illness characterized by a radical change in personality and a distorted or diminished sense of objective reality.)

But it’s not unique to the Chinese. W still enjoys his 30% approval rating. There’s a strong tendency in people towards totalitarianism.

April 17, 2009 @ 11:30 am | Comment

Richard, Chairman Mao did copy many things from Stalin before their relationship turned sour, just look at so many older Chinese government buildings of the Soviet style, the earlier Chinese revolutionary movies and Mao’s personality cult, all based on the Soviet style without much ingenuity.

Fan, it is good to know about current Russians’ attitude towards Stalin. I do know that the Soviet people burned Stalin’s body and dumped the ash. But the Chinese people just don’t have such critical mentality to reject Mao as the Soviet people rejected Stalin and still adore and remain infatuated with him in a humanly inexplicable way

April 17, 2009 @ 11:44 am | Comment

El Chino, Mao was a Communist, too – that says nothing about what he felt for Stalin. He adopted Soviet 1950s architecture, that doesn’t mean Stalin was his mentor. I really wonder how much you know about this, as any decent biography of Mao will tell you about the hideous relationship these two men had. Stalin was actually much fonder of Chiang Kai Shek than of Mao.

I do know that the Soviet people burned Stalin’s body and dumped the ash.

I admire your bravery, that you are willing to put yourself at such risk of ridicule. So many people joined to mourn at his funeral that several were crushed to death. From Wikipedia:

His body was preserved in Lenin’s Mausoleum until 31 October 1961, when his body was removed from the Mausoleum and buried next to the Kremlin walls as part of the process of de-Stalinization.

You don’t do yourself any favors by making broad statements about history based on ignorance and pre-conceived notions.

April 17, 2009 @ 1:05 pm | Comment

I’m now listening to Alex Jones ( http://www.prisonplanet.com ).

This guy’s brilliant!

There’s this whole sub-culture in the US of people who are convinced that the relationship of the government to the people is that of a MAD Laboratory Scientist to laboratory rats. Everything that we read, hear, eat and drink is designed to manipulate the people.

A total, complete collapse in confidence, belief in the society and its institutions. Even George Soros confirms this when he talks about the problem of manipulation.

April 17, 2009 @ 1:20 pm | Comment

Richard, actually I can’t help laughing at myself. What I learned about Stalin was from our history teacher back in P. R. China. We were told not to follow the Soviet Union’s bad example to betray Stalin and the socialism and to adhere to the authentic and original socialism under Chairman Mao’s leadership.

April 17, 2009 @ 1:23 pm | Comment

I think the comments about how the ads themselves have been generally badly received are more telling than the fact Chinese internet users are upset. I remember when the latter raged about Japan and boycotting Japanese goods – didn’t make a difference as far as I can remember, at least in regards to long-term trends.

Personally I don’t think the adverts are that greater either.

April 17, 2009 @ 3:09 pm | Comment

I wonder too if the ability of the Soviets to tackle Stalin’s legacy might have been because they had Lenin to fall back upon, whereas Mao was not just any state leader, he was also the founder of the country and party. This makes his legacy a little bit trickier than Stalin’s. Just a thought.

April 17, 2009 @ 4:42 pm | Comment

Good points. Mao’s legacy is unique. The more that’s revealed about how bad he was, the more teflon-coated he seems.

April 17, 2009 @ 7:51 pm | Comment

Site was down more than an hour – sorry everyone.

April 17, 2009 @ 7:53 pm | Comment

Hey,well,first of all, please be patient to my terrible English, heehee.
There are two chinese sayings : It’s much easier to beat flies on the heads of other people (拍别人头上的苍蝇比较容易). and There is good jugement if without comparison(没有比较就没有鉴别).

So I think it should be a good way to make an assumption,that the advert company put your favourite celebrity in the history of your country on that advert instead of Mao, before to say something. What reaction you will have? Should it be same as some of the Chinese Netizens?

Actually you guys have already made a assumption: Stalin. Some of you denied this, because Lenin is better. Then, why not assume it was Lenin? Alright, you may think Lenin or Washington or someone else has no comparison with Mao, because Mao is devil and he/she is angel. Then I would like to tell him, Mao has the same image in some of the Netizens.

Jeremiah said Russia has Lenin fall back upon, but Mao does not. I agree with you, so it’s possible for Chinese people to spit on Deng 50 years later. And it’s impossible for Mao.

April 29, 2009 @ 1:10 pm | Comment

I am sorry, it was ” There is NO good jugement if without comparison.”

April 29, 2009 @ 1:11 pm | Comment

from a creative perspective, these are bad ads. but bad marketing move? had you heard of doc morris before? me neither but I have now. the brand doesn’t market in China so has nothing to lose there.

Also, most chinese will not know or care who the creative agency is, so will have no effect on their business in China. see TBWA and the amnesty ads pre-Olympics. hasn’t stopped TBWA from building on its success in China. Similarly for Leo burnett, who had trouble with ‘netizens’ a few years ago with the Nippon ad. are now handling huge accounts with endorsers including Liu Xiang. The brand takes the flak – the agency slips back in the shadows.

May 14, 2009 @ 10:29 am | Comment

Yes, I had heard of Doc Morris before. I understand the idea that no type of publicity is bad publicity, but that’s simply not always true. For example, the current publicity over Chinese made drywall hasn’t been very useful for China’s image. No one had heard of the product before, but I don’t see the controversy helping to boost sales. More importantly, while this may do a lot to boost familiarity with Grey and Morris in China, the German office that actually came up with the idea suffered in its own geography, sparking outrage among Chinese in Germany. Sure, they may have gotten attention, but there are better ways to do this, and ways to get attention while making money from it. Here, the costs in damage control far outweighed any benefits.

May 14, 2009 @ 12:54 pm | Comment

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