If the Chinese Communist Party Is Using Online Video, Shouldn't You?

Watch the Spot: People's Liberation Army Line Dances in Recruitment Ad

By Published on .

When you think of the People's Liberation Army, you probably don't think of line dancing. But the Chinese military's latest online recruiting video makes a soldier's life look more fun than the macarena.

The brief spot, posted last week on the website of the Ministry of National Defense and going viral, features tanks and fighter jets, as well as soldiers dancing in rows to a quirky hit tune by the Chopsticks Brothers called "Little Apple." Its lyrics include, "You are my little dear little apple/I can never stop loving you."

It's the latest of several Chinese official videos to spread online (one was a "Top Gun"-themed military recruitment video, and another was an homage to the Communist Party. See below.)

The newest video, timed to the 87th anniversary of the PLA on Aug. 1 and designed to inspire young people to enlist, was made by the recruiting department in the city of Xi'an, according to China's official news agency, Xinhua.

Reactions on Weibo, China's Twitter, ranged from approval to hilarity to scorn ("military songs should be serious and powerful," one user griped.) "PLA soldiers get juicy with 'Little Apple' dance video" was the headline on the Shanghai Daily's news site.

Online video in China
Online video is popular among China's young, partly since Chinese TV tends to be uninspiring. The market is growing fast, with revenues of $596 million in the first quarter of 2014, up 59.2 % from the year-earlier period, according to China's iResearch. And there's room for growth, since China's ad landscape is still heavily dominated by TV spending.

China has encouraged its government units, from the central to local level, to set up websites and use social media for years, said Jeremy Goldkorn, director of Danwei, a firm that researches the Chinese internet and media and that is owned by the Financial Times.

Since online video is so popular among young Chinese, "it makes sense to adapt the propaganda toolbox to include it," he said.

Are there any takeaways for ad agencies in all this?

"I suppose it's that the Chinese government is one of the world's leading advertising organizations in the sense that it's great at consistent messaging, and it's great at splashing its message across all media forms," Mr. Goldkorn said. "And if the Communist Party is doing online video, then brands should be too."

Other videos worth your time:

A video released in April offers six minutes of overheated homage to the might and muscles of the men aboard the country's aircraft carrier. Sweaty naked torsos are a recurring theme, as are "Top Gun" references. Aviators march with helmets tucked under their arms in true Maverick-and-Iceman style. (The new recruitment video clearly owes a heavy debt to this one.)

The spot cames from China's state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China and was made by a local director named Liuxiao Shi.

One of the film's oddities: A whispy-whiskered singer named Rongzhongerjia makes a sudden, startling appearance about two minutes in.

Though it's relatively slick, there was certainly no involvement from an international ad agency. ("China would never let foreigners film that aircraft carrier," as one ad exec commented).

"The Communist Party of China Is With You Along the Way," popped up online in late December, and it's unclear who made it. The ad echos President Xi Jinping's theme of the "Chinese Dream," a fuzzy idea evoking everything from increasing prosperity to a better society.

It featured a magisterial voice-over ("this is an ancient and youthful country") and shots of ordinary people, from farmers to women doing water aerobics to a rather frightening clown. This one comes in an English-language version.

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