A TV ad whips up a furore in China for its 'incestuous' message
HONG KONG: The TV ad opens with a young mother - played by Chinese actress and fashion model Jiang Wenli (you might have seen her in Chen Kaige's award-winning 1993 film Farewell My Concubine) - blow-drying her hair to the mellifluous strains of piano music.
The mother catches her young son - a picture of indescribable cuteness, complete with spiky hair - gazing adoringly at her.
"Sweetheart, what's on your mind?" the mother asks him. To which, the toddler, perhaps all of five years old, replies: "Mom, when I grow up, I want to marry you!"
Stunned, she asks him: "What did you say?" Guilelessly, the boy says again, "I want to marry you!"
More amused than angry, the mother asks him: "And what about Papa?"
The boy looks furtively sideways - perhaps to check that "Papa" isn't around - and delivers his punchline: "When I grow up, Papa will have become old… But mom will never grow old."
Cut to product description of Maxam cosmetic cream…Just another creative spin on an ageless cosmetics advertisement that slickly delivers the promise of eternal beauty.
But the ad, which aired on China's public broadcaster CCTV 6, whipped up a storm of protest, with viewers ranting against its 'incestuous' message.
A distraught Jiang stepped up to defend the ad. She said she had been drawn to it because it sounded like a 'creative' idea.
In any case, she adds, children that young don't have any concept of what "marriage" is about.
"My son is 5 years old, and when we teasingly ask him what kind of a girlfriend he'd like when he's grown up, he says he wants to marry his mother!" The ad, she said, communicates a certain kind of mother-son love, and called on viewers to be a trifle more "tolerant".
Although the ad industry in China is maturing gradually, it's still a bit of a minefield for creative teams at several levels.
First, all advertisements have to be vetted by the government to ensure that the embedded message doesn't serve as a "spiritual and civilisational pollutant".
But even after ad gurus get past the government censors, they still have to make sure that the ads resonate culturally with their audiences. And while that's true of any market, in China, the particularities of an emerging new-rich class - with a traumatic socio-political history of 50 years - makes it all the more challenging.
Maxam ad can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/yejwku