The ban on TV ads during dramas and films running longer than 45 minutes that China’s propaganda chiefs are imposing from January is aiming at the wrong target if the purpose is to bring the country’s increasingly money-grubbing media to heel. While TV advertising now accounts for three-fifths of China’s total advertising market, it is the rapid growth of digital media that is making China one of the fastest growing advertising markets in the world. MEC China, part of the WPP media agency empire, forecasts a 17% jump in ad expenditures to $63 billion next year, driven by companies trying to reach the online “Me Generation”.
For the past couple of years, the industry’s regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, has been snipping away at successful mass entertainment programs shown on the country’s proliferation of TV stations. It has restricted the time allowed for ads between and during programs, and leaned on broadcasters to show more culturally uplifting programming. As in many aspects of life, when it comes to cultural reform, a proxy for the desire to develop soft power around national cultural identity, the Party’s say-so is competing against more and more alternative voices. Hence the propaganda department’s attempts to guide market forces to impose the necessary drive for the promotion of the cultural values that it wants to see. However, though there will be some early disruption as TV ad campaigns for the new year have already been bought, the longer-term outcome is likely to be that money that would have gone to TV advertising will just move online rather than new culturally correct domestic programming will be created to keep it on TV, let alone fill the gaps created by its departure.
There is only one lesson for any company wishing to do business in China from the debacle over Groupon’s parodic Tibet TV ad (see below) aired during America’s Superbowl on Sunday. When it comes to Tibet, Beijing doesn’t have a sense of humor. Period.
Perhaps, two lessons. Bad ads are bad ads anywhere.
Some links for further reading:
- A post from Groupon’s corporate blog, written before the ad aired, explaining the company’s “peculiar sense of humor” and its thinking behind the ads;
- Shanghaiist rounds up the true cost to Groupon’s ambitions in China;
- The home page of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, the creative agency that produced the ads and which is bravely/brazenly streaming a far-from complimentary Twitter feed about its work;
- Update: Groupon CEO Andrew Mason’s defense of the ad.
Set aside the special edgy culture of Superbowl ads, CP+B’s lack of China experience and its background in viral marketing, where parody and reality often seem interchangeable, but did no one there or at Groupon really see this coming? Our first thought was to recall Brendan Behan’s much quoted adage, “There is no such thing as bad publicity”. Then we remembered his full quote, “There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary”.
Beijing is planning an ad blitz in the U.S. to accompany President Hu Jintao’s state visit to Washington next week. Familiar faces to Americans such as basketball player Yao Ming and film star Jackie Chan will be deployed as will less familiar ones such as pianist Lang Lang and astronaut Yang Liwei. In all 50 Chinese celebrities have been recruited to the cause, according to the Guangming Daily. There are to be a couple of TV spots and a 12 minute film showcasing China’s achievements. It is not clear what the tone or content will be (though we can guess, and the good people who brought you the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai Expo know how to put on a show).
Political advertising, as propaganda is known in the U.S., is pretty slick. Wooing let alone wowing America’s media-drenched public will be a hard task for this exercise in soft power. That said, with a new survey from the Pew Research Center showing most American’s now think China has displaced their own country as the world’s no. 1 economic power the ads, as propaganda is known in the U.S., may be preying on vulnerable minds.
Update: A 60-second version of the film has started showing in New York City’s Times Square.
Chinese are like Americans in one respect. More of them are spending more time online and more money while they are so.
And all the more so this year, according to a new annual survey for the semi-official Internet Society of China. It forecasts that there will be 244 million Chinese online by the end of this year, up from 182 million in 2006 — which would give China a larger web population than the U.S., though penetration rates remain much smaller (14% vs 70%+). The cross-over point in raw numbers is expected mid-year.
As in the U.S. internet usage is being driven by more widely available broadband. Online spending is forecast to increase to 581.5 billion yuan ($80 billion) this year, up from barely 300 billion yuan, with internet access fees, online shopping and online gaming the three main categories. Online travel booking is also growing fast as greater wealth makes Chinese more frequent tourists. The Beijing Olympics will also likely give it a boost in 2008.
Though there is no number given for total internet advertising in China, it accounted for 27.2% of the 12.4 billion yuan taken in by portals in 2007, up 22.3% from a year earlier and forecast to continue growing briskly, especially web video advertising.
The report also forecasts that online communities and e-commerce will become increasingly integrated in 2008, but says it will be tough for such sites to make money in the short-term. Just like in America.