Citroen’s Happy Ending Brothel Ad a Sign of Sinification


Happy Endings. Literally. That’s the latest strategy from French automaker Citroen, as it moves to fulfill its promise to double its sales in China over the next three years.

Citroen’s new ad campaign for its C4L model is an extended joke about going to a brothel, but the ad is similar to an erotic hit Hong Kong film from last year. It’s just one more way Citroen is embracing the fact that it might soon be more Chinese than French. [more]

Citroen’s two-minute ad starts out about one’s first car, first “pot of gold,” and “the first time….” From there, the ad follows a young man at a brothel listening to the manager, whose double entendres include how “all of our technicians here graduated from the highest British universities” the “service” and “features,” the 290,000 “nerves,” and a play on “liang,” which is also a measure word for automobiles. Of course, “oil” makes an appearance. The ad also plays on the rise of China’s male population of “diaosi” (“losers”).

The whole endeavor falls under the umbrella title “推背” or “Back Massage” (not to be confused with China’s famous ancient book of prophecy Tui Bei Tu (“推背图”).

Even without a working understanding of Chinese, one can get the gist of the spot, with the young man brought to a happy ending—that’s really a test drive at the dealership. “So, what do you think,” asks the salesman to the postcoital chap. The tagline: “Different engines produce different ‘back massage’ experiences / C4L invites you to try a 2013 ‘back massage’ journey.”

Here, the “推背” (“Back massage”) is suggesting its literal meaning. Auto QQ’s look at the commercial notes that the use means to point out that the new Citroen turbocharged engine “pushes you back into the seat on acceleration… and the pleasure makes you unable to stop.”

Needless to say, so far the ad is a hit.

In fact, it mirrors another brothel-themed hit from October 2012.

Due West: Our Sex Journey (一路向西) told the story of one (“diaosi”) young man and his lifetime of sexual hijinks, tragedies and exploits. The film’s happy ending finds the hero just over the border in China at a brothel. There he is “back massaged” by an attractive hooker-with-a-heart who, of course, falls for him a little bit. An R-rated movie by U.S. standards, the “erotic” 3-D film was the sixth-highest grossing Hong Kong film in 2012 (HK$19.2M / US$2.5M). But the escapades onscreen were first online.

Due West is kind of a big deal among netizens because it’s based on a very well-liked anthology compiled from two internet-based short stories,” said Kevin Ma, a writer for, who reviewed the film.

Earlier C4L ads used the “journey” messaging but were a little more conventional, using the overall tagline “Power Forward.”

That “journey” messaging goes all the way back to June 2012, when Citroen was building buzz for its DS line with a “From Paris to China” campaign. (Not to be confused with Louis Vuitton’s 2012 “From Paris to China” locomotive campaign.)

According to Ad Age, Peugeot Citroen “outbid Volkswagen to become the top foreign spender for prime-time advertising slots this year on state-owned China Central Television.”

Citroen and its partner Dongfeng Motor Group debuted the new C4L at the Guoangzhou Auto Show in December 2012 with a starting price of RMB 123,900 (about $20,000). Not a European crossover, the C4L was designed specifically for China and a few other emerging markets.

A lighthearted look at frequenting brothels may be a no-go subject for advertisers in the West, but (for now) it works in China. This—pun intended—message localization is just another way Citroen itself is booming more Chinese.

Peugeot Citroen has already predicted that within a couple years, China will be its biggest market. It plans to expand from 300 to 500 dealerships by 2015 and to see a 22 percent increase in sales this year. It’s China sales were up 9.2 percent in 2012, better than many rivals during a year of (comparative) slowdown.

China is certainly a bright spot for Citroen. Last October, when “Due West” was still on moviescreens, Peugeot Citroen was in need of a €7 billion credit bailout from the French government, a situation brought on in part because of tanking European sales; sales that, thanks to China, Citroen may soon have to worry less about.