Chinese New Year Guilt Sells

I saw this ad in an elevator here in Shanghai:


Here’s a transcript of the Chinese text:





And here’s an English translation:

What you’re worried about

isn’t not being able to get home for CNY

but rather getting home only to find

you haven’t done enough for your parents.

Oh man… SO CHINESE! We’ve got these elements:

  • Chinese New Year (CNY)
  • not being able to make it home for CNY (sometimes an issue even before COVID)
  • guilt over filial obligations

When I shared this ad with some Chinese friends, they agreed with my assessment of the ad and its “emotionally predatory” nature. But then they also added: 脑白金 (Naobaijin) is still the undisputed king of supplements that brainwash with their ads.

I remember seeing Naobaijin ads when I first came to China in 2000. Rather than blatantly focusing on guilt, they have just relentlessly continued an ad campaign over many years that focuses on a single message: give this product to old people you care about. The price point is such that it’s not a cheap gift, but still affordable for most people. And if you buy a similar product from a less expensive competitor, you just look cheap. But no one will fault you for giving Naobaijin to old people as a gift, because it has secured its position in the minds of the populace.

As for Caltrate… will guilt tactics work? Who knows…


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Whoa! That’s intense! I always love it when I can decode a Chinese ad such as this and learn about the culture through it. Great sighting and great write-up, John, as always!

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