Watch out Maotai! Chishuihe releases Lionel Messi “signed” baijiu

On 11 January, football megastar Lionel Messi announced through his official account the release of a limited signed baijiu liquor via a video ad. The ad was also aired on CCTV, China’s state-owned television channel. Compared to the fame and adoration the ambassador enjoys, the brand, Chishuihe (赤水河, lit. Chishui River) is little known to most. In fact, most people only got to know the label last August when it announced that Messi would become the face of the brand. No product has been announced by the winemaker until now and the new ad marks the first time that the Chishuihe baijiu will be made publicly available.

The regular package of the 53% ABV liquor will set you back 1,099 RMB (151.51 USD) per 500ml bottle, while the “signed” version will have a 400 RMB (56.24 USD) premium on top of the regular price. Each bottle comes with a blessing such as happiness, courage or success. A limited 6-bottle case is also available with the success blessings and signature for 6,600 RMB (927.92 USD), limited to 10,000 cases. Note that all signatures are printed versions of Messi’s autograph.

Chishui River is a river in Southwest China and many famed distilleries are built alongside it, including Kweichow Moutai, or Maotai, the most coveted premium baijiu in China, especially around the festive season. The Chishuihe brand was founded in 2021 by Gao Jinhua, the CEO of Shidanli, a chemical fertiliser brand. The brand is also located in Guizhou, where Maotai is produced and is of the same aroma tone, Jiangxiang, or ‘sauce aroma’ as Maotai. Its pricing as commented on by pundits takes direct aim at Maotai.

Indeed, one user on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent jokingly commented that they tried harder to get hold of the new Chishuihe baijiu than Maotai. With superstar Messi featuring in the campaign, the topic “Messi signs the blessing versions of Chishuihe wine” (#梅西签字祝福款赤水河酒#) gained 480 million views since its launch on 11 January. Some netizens compare this campaign to the 2003 fiasco of Ronaldo Nazário, the world-class footballer who was tricked into featuring in ads for a lesser-known brand of lozenges – Golden Throat with seemingly no link to football. But Messi was not tricked into any deal and is being paid over 20 million RMB (2.81 million USD) per year to be Chishuihe’s ambassador.

It is of course apparent that the ambitious newcomer Chishuihe is banking on the popularity of the footballer to drive sales with a premium price in-line with Maotai. However, a recent report finds that influencer and celebrity marketing is losing its charm among younger consumers. Whether Messi’s printed signature on the baijiu bottles and chances of winning a signed jersey or football justify the price, has to be left to football fans to decide.


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