If you have been on the Beijing subway this month, you’re likely to have seen the new Red Star ads: bold and iconic white and red letters embossed onto a black and white background photo. They are the Chinese liquor brand’s new ad campaign, posters reminiscent in the style of Soviet and nationalist China’s propaganda.
The campaign is promoting 苏扁 (Subian), a line of erguotou whose name and whose packaging design imitates a Soviet flask. The hope is that the Subian bottle evokes nostalgia in older consumers, while also appealing to young people, with a focus on the post-80s generation.
As Brian Glucroft writes in Isidor’s Fugue, one of the ads uses this imagery:
“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.”
Glucroft tries to link images of pollution and driving people to drink, which he thought was the message. However, the line reads 铁哥们是这样炼成的, which translates to “How Iron Brothers Were Tempered”, a play on the title of the Soviet classic How The Steel Was Tempered. The background photo’s smog is meant to imitate the Dongbei provinces’ steel factories during China’s manufacturing heyday, with the two people dressed in old, worker-style clothes.
According to CNR, the campaign has been quite successful, attracting attention from Chinese youths. Furthermore, the slogans have quickly became the topic of conversation. A passenger was reported to be beaming with excitement, claiming that he felt connected and motivated by these words. All the slogans are nationalist themed, involving leftist wordplay, designed to arouse consumers aspirations, nostalgia, and longing for brotherhood and camaraderie:
Use bullets to put down enemies, use erguotou to put down bros.
Chuck down Years of Burning Passion down the throat (激情燃烧的岁月 is a Chinese nationalist historic TV drama)
No pain, no satisfaction
All the words that are hard to be mouthed, chuck’em
Only with brothers can there be camps
One in each hand, is a good ‘-ISM’