“Here at the White House there are so many firewalls blocking me from shopping online,” the 45th US president complains to the “great people of China” in a video released November 10, “that not even the President will be able to take advantage of those amazing deals you’ll see online during this holiday.”
It’s Kevin Spacey, of course, reprising the role of Frank J. Underwood in Netflix’s popular TV series House of Cards in an advertisement for e-commerce giant Alibaba on China’s most lucrative online shopping holiday.
“If this Singles Day is the excuse you’ve been waiting for to spoil yourself with a little online shopping,” he says, “than I must say, I’m more than a little jealous.”
“In the words of your fellow countryman Jack Ma,” he adds, referring to the Alibaba founder, “today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.”
Also known as “11.11” or “Double Eleven” for its date, Singles Day was once a little-known celebration of bachelorhood in China. But in 2008, Alibaba transformed it into an online sales bonanza by encouraging merchants on its shopping sites to offer steep discounts for one day only.
This year, Alibaba sold over 1$ billion of merchandise in 8 minutes after the sales promotion started at midnight in Beijing. The event kicked off the night before with a television gala featuring appearances from Chinese celebrities and singers, as well as Adam Lambert, Daniel Craig and the video featuring Kevin Spacey as President Underwood. The gala was viewed by 1.78 million people.
After saying hello and complaining about the White House “firewalls” blocking China’s shopping sites (not true, to the best of our knowledge, though this may be the first time anyone made fun of China’s Great Firewall in an advertisement in China), the ruthless and entirely fictional US president recommends Chinese consumers purchase:
- A burner phone, or ten of them
- Presidential M&Ms
- A replica of Underwood’s class ring from the Sentinel
- A presidential desk
- His favorite costumes including a pair of glasses, a trench coat and a hat
House of Cards is one of the most popular foreign shows in China: the series’ second season was the top-ranked US show on Chinese video-streaming site Sohu, top Chinese officials are reportedly obsessed with the show, and China’s ambassador to the US once implied he thought it was reality TV.
Alibaba’s Ma had promised earlier on social media in China (link in Chinese) that the “White House” would show up for the kickoff gala. Some Chinese internet users responded that they were upset that the video featured Underwood, rather than actual US president Barack Obama.
Others said they couldn’t believe the video appeared at all. “It is absolutely the most surprising ad I’ve ever seen domestically!” one commented on Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like blogging platform. “WTF,” another user wrote, “seeing the appearance of Kevin Spacey, I sincerely exclaimed at the power of money.”