Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Obama's Blockberry

I guarantee this wouldn't have happened to John McCain. Obama's been Shanzhai'd!

The picture and story below are from The Wall St. Journal's "China Journal:"

It’s the biggest product launch of the year: a Chinese company is selling a BlackBerry-like device with promotional assistance from none other than the President of the United States.

Okay, not really. But that’s the idea behind this ad, the latest emanation from China’s zany shanzhai culture, a mixture of old-school copycatting and arch parody.

The ad promotes a smartphone called the “BlockBerry旋风 9500” (旋风, xuanfeng, means “whirlwind”), that more-than-slightly resembles the BlackBerry Storm, Research In Motion’s (RIMM) first touch-screen device, released last fall. The touch-screen BlockBerry purportedly runs on Windows Mobile software, has WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and 3G wireless capabilities, and comes in six colors, from purple to champagne. “Obama’s BlackBerry. My Blockberry旋风 9500,” reads the tagline below the president’s photo (which is inverted, apparently by a sloppy layout designer, with the American-flag pin backwards on the wrong lapel). China Journal admittedly hasn’t verified this with Robert Gibbs, but we’ll go out on a limb and say that Obama’s presence in the ad is unauthorized.

Read On
I wanted to post something more substantive today, but couldn't resist highlighting this ad. It cracks me up.

I've talked a few times before about Shanzhai culture in China. Coming from a country that is one of the biggest enforcers of intellectual property rights in the world, this culture continues to amaze me. It is literally everywhere on every street in Xi'an. Fake everything everywhere.

I couldn't help but laugh a couple times as I read the Shanzhai Wikipedia page:
The use of “shanzhai” became popular with the outstanding sale performance of “shanzhai” cell phones. According to Gartner’s data, 1.15 billion cell phones were sold worldwide in 2007, and according to data provided by the Chinese government 150 million “Shanzhai” cell phones were sold in the same year, thus making up more than one tenth of the global sales. [3]

The market for “shanzhai” cell phones lies not only in China, but also in the surrounding developing countries in Asia or even third world countries in Africa. The outstanding sales performance of “shanzhai” cell phones is usually attributed to their low price, (usually lower than $50), multi-functional performance and imitations of trendy cell phone design. Although “shanzhai” companies do not use branding as a marketing strategy, they are known for their flexibility of design to meet specific market needs. For example, during Barack Obama’s 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign, “shanzhai” cell phone companies started selling “Obama” cell phones in Kenya, with the slogan “yes we can” and Obama’s name on the back of the cell phone. [4] They also designed “ Bird Nest” and “Fuwa” (福娃) cell phones in light of the Beijing Olympic Games.


Shanzhaiism 山寨主義 is a philosophical term denoting a Chinese style of innovation with a peasant mind-set. Western style innovation cannot be developed in China. In the Web2.0 era, most products and services are produced by the west. It seems that China has no say and no way in the Web2.0 era.

Shanzhaiism has a long tradition. Products needed to be designed to suit peasants which account for most of the Chinese population.

Shanzhaiism has an equivalent English term: tinker. Lacking a garage, they build products in villages in the mountain that have stockade houses. However, with shanzhaiism in mind, people can produce fake and pirate products in a massively organized way.


The frequent reference of “shanzhai” cell phone on internet and in traditional media made people started labeling low-cost imitation cultural activities as “shanzhai” as well. Some of the most well-known events include, “Shanzhai” National Spring Gala (“山寨春节联欢晚会”), “Shanzhai” Lecture Room (“山寨百家讲坛”), “Shanzhai” Olympic Torch Relay (“山寨奥运火炬传递”), and “Shanzhai” Nobel Prize (“山寨诺贝尔奖”). One thing these events have in common is that they all imitate high-end, popular yet authoritative events in which grass-root power usually has no participating role.

While the purpose of above mentioned “shanzhai” events are arguably just for the participants to have fun and to experience being the authority, other “shanzhai” cultural phenomenon, like the “shanzhai” product, is profit-oriented. One example of such is that some low-end performing agencies will hire people who look like pop stars to perform in rural areas, where people cannot afford to watch the performance of the actual stars. Thus “shanzhai” Jay Chou( “山寨周杰伦”), “shanzhai” Andy Lau(“山寨刘德华”, “shanzhai” Faye Wong(“山寨王菲”)s’ performance can be seen in many underdeveloped places in China.
Shanzhai is definitely ingrained into Chiense culture. As China develops and becomes wealthier, it's going to be interesting to see how this culture develops and how the country deals with the phenomenon.


Ramesh said...

What a cracker. Obama Blockberry - wow ! You have to hand it to them - Shanzhai it may be, but this is an "original" thought !!

AMIT said...

Wow nice cell with nice name.

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