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Bodacious army

By Raymond Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2015-08-03 07:42

Bodacious army


A legion of half-naked 'Spartan warriors' were accused of disturbing public order when they marched through downtown Beijing, but they were more guilty of bringing out the 'inner teenage girl' in a growing female clientele.

Spartan warriors are famous for their valor. But in the Chinese capital they were easily subdued by police.

No, they did not time-travel.

The contingent that appeared on Beijing's streets did not even carry swords. Their weapons of choice were cups full of fruits and vegetables. Or, maybe it's the muscular bodies that proved to have power of mass destruction and really hit the point home.

An online salad store hired dozens of "models" in a marketing stunt to replicate the scene from the movie 300 on July 22. The plan worked so well that it was halted by police intervention.

By that time, photos of the caped Spartans had gone viral. The controversy only added fuel to the flame, substantially raising public awareness for the name Sweetie Salad, the advertiser.

In terms of marketing technique, the advertiser did two things right.

It used Westerners instead of Chinese. It could have amassed a cadre of buffed-up Chinese bodybuilders, but the curiosity factor would have been much lower, let alone the concept of restaging the 300 army.

The days when Chinese put on "white face" to play Caucasians are long gone because we have money to hire real foreigners, in movies or promotional activities.

About the only place foreign talent is desperately needed is in the Beijing subway, which clings to bizarre pronunciations by non-native English speakers.

The other thing that Sweetie Salad got right is the gender.

Most Chinese advertisers would opt for women as models, but there are a few that take the perspective of the customer rather than the boss, who tends to be male. Just as men like to ogle at beautiful women, the reverse is true and more and more pronounced as Chinese women move away from the custom of demureness.

Traditionally, Chinese are more sensitive toward women in compromising situations than men. Scantily clad women would be frowned upon, but men wearing shorts in public? Who cares? So, using shirtless men as an advertising ploy is a novelty but not necessarily a breakthrough.

The trick is in the size of the contingent. If it's too small, it wouldn't make an impact, especially in a metropolis of 20 million people. If it's too large-most photos show an approximation of 100 Spartans-it'll run into trouble with the police.

As the advertiser may or may not have known, a public gathering of 100 people or more needs prior vetting and approval from local police.

Again from the photos, it seemed the police did not jump on them until they had walked through streets and shopping plazas. The police said they'd issued warnings first, but the Spartans would not budge, so some were curbed-pinned to the ground as shown in the photos.

They were not real Spartans. They were not even actors. They did not even strike up poses of a fight.

I don't know how much they were paid and how they were instructed. But a friend who recently hired a dozen Western models confided to me that the going rate is around 2,000 yuan ($323) a day, which would put the cost at 200,000 yuan if the size was indeed 100.

That would be prohibitive for a mom-and-pop shop, but if you're into hiring stars or starlets that's probably peanuts. A Chinese A-lister, say, Fan Bingbing, would charge 2 million yuan to just cut a ribbon for a business.

Back to the legal ground. Wu Dong, a Shanghai-based lawyer, offered the following analysis: The police had ruled that it was not technically a "parade or gathering", but rather a "commercial promotional event", which moved it away from the danger zone.

Each city sets its own limit for the size of participants that requires prior application and the rules are quite complicated. But even if the Spartans did not exceed this limit, the police could legally stop them if they deemed the crowd it attracts too big. And in any case when the participants do not oblige, the police have the right to "use forceful measures".

Translated into layman's terms, the police acted appropriately in this incident, which only some of the Spartan-loving women grumbled about.

"It awakened the teenage girl in me" was the refrain that echoed through cyberspace. The police crackdown, haphazard as it looked, must have put that "teenage girl" back in Sleeping Beauty mode.

Some of these women called up the salad service and were chagrined to find that the real delivery guy was not a Caucasian, nor did he come shirtless.

"It was just a regular delivery boy," said a woman I know who placed an order right after the incident. "They told me I had to make 15 orders before I get a muscle guy."

I guess Sweetie Salad is not ready to splurge on a large sum and round up the nation's bodybuilders, sending them on the road to salad delivery.

Oh! I forgot to mention: There is an implicit link between leering at the male physique and eating salad. The more salad you order, the more you'll look like him.

Or, I should say: Ladies, the more salad you order for your beau, the more he'll look like an ancient Spartan. Or, so it seems.

Contact the writer at raymondzhou@chinadaily.com.cn

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