Back in 2004, actor Jackie Chan shot a Chinese shampoo commercial so bizarrely memorable that it became an icon. The ad for Bawang herbal shampoo just shows Jackie Chan wearing a white suit, making the occasional funny gesture and talking about hair for over a minute. A flute plays in the background, and Bawang products float in the corner of the screen.
It's so bad it's good.
A funny remixed version of the shampoo ad popped up on a video site recently, spawning a catchphrase that was picked up by internet users and brands from Durex to KFC. The buzzword's topic page on Weibo, a microblogging site, was read more than 160 million times.
The shampoo company seems to be enjoying the attention, even putting out its own spoof video, and company spokesman Wang Liang says it's monitoring sales for a potential increase. What happened exactly?
The dawn of a new word: "duang"
In the 2004 ad, Mr. Chan made a funny, cartoonish sound effect --- "duaang!" – to make fun of hair that is digitally enhanced to look extra-good in shampoo commercials – something he said he wouldn't stand for.
Special effects, he said, can make hair go "'duaaang!' Very black! Very shiny! Very soft!"
A new video poking fun of the shampoo ad took the catchphrase "duang," set the ad to a popular song and remixed it to change the words and make Mr. Chan's hair flap around. (The backstory is that Mr. Chan constantly gets poked fun of for his massive roster of endorsement deals with brands from frozen dumplings to an auto repair school.)
"Duang" at first was spelled out phoenetically in Roman letters -- now it's got a new Chinese character. Nobody can agree on what it means exactly. Some use it like "boing boing," others use it to mean something enhanced by special effects. Sam Flemming, CEO and founder of Kantar Media CIC, likens it to "voila."
"The video was clever and funny, while touching on a shared memory of a pretty bad Jackie Chan infomercial," Mr. Flemming wrote in an email. It also took China's internet culture of photoshopping funny pictures to a whole new level, by using video, he said.
Oni Zhang, Shanghai-based planning manager for Grey Group, said there were a few factors making the video and catchphrase go viral. Mr. Chan was in the news for a new movie and for his son's release from jail on drug charges.
Since "duang" doesn't have a defined meaning, Mr. Zhang said, "it leaves huge room for netizens to show their own creativity -- as you can see lots of people are creating their own version of 'duang,'" and brands are too.
Ice cream and sex toys
PepsiCo, China Eastern Airlines and e-commerce giant Taobao all made "duang" jokes on Weibo. KFC combined two memes – "duang" and the debate over the blue/black vs. white/gold dress – in a post about the color of an ice cream cone.
But the funniest jokes came from Durex, a master of social media in China, which transformed "duang" into sexual innuendo. An animated GIF showed a Durex Rabbit vibrator buzzing away, with "duang" in the caption.
Meanwhile, the shampoo company itself released its own spoof of the original ad. "Did you duang today?" it asks, showing Mr. Chan tossing his hair around. Oddly, it splices another Chinese internet meme onto the end, showing a lovers' quarrel on the street between two men arguing over 100 yuan (about $16) while a policeman looked on.
The same amount of money can buy two bottles of herbal shampoo, the spoof points out.
"Buy a bottle of shampoo, let's 'duang' together and the world will be more joyful," the tune in the remix says. On the QQ video site, it has about 2.2 million views.