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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

China Too Irate at Nike Ad? Depends on Whether you're Chinese or not.

There's nothing new about symbology in advertising. Ancient relics and architecture as well as modern monuments and art of Europe, such as the Roman Coluseum, the Eiffel tower and the Mona Lisa are often used in advertising, as are Egyptian wall paintings, etc., sometimes even as punch lines. Everybody seems to understand that recognizable objects are semaphores for the ideas they represent and that in advertising, you get a bit of the stretch factor. When Chinese icons are used, however, it's a different horse. The Chinese are so serious about their culture; their symbols are woven into how they think of themselves.

It could be argued that the Chinese take themselves too seriously, but the fact is this is how they feel and they have no compunction about defending it. It is their long-standing privilege, as the oldest extant civilization on the planet, to do so. However, as they become a major player in the globalized market, this mentality might well be at cross purposes for peaceful coexistence in the commercial world.
China offended by Nike advertisement

from ITV
7.50AM, Tue Dec 7 2004

China has voiced its anger over a Nike advertisement in which a US basketball star fights off a series of ancient Chinese characters.

In the ad, LeBron James, 19, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers, fights and wins when confronted by a white-haired cartoon kung fu master and some dragons.

Yesterday, China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television ordered national TV stations to stop broadcasts of the ad dubbed "LeBron James in Chamber of Fear".
It said it had sparked anger and claims of offending "national feelings."

A statement on the state administration's website said: "The ad has aroused strong public indignation."

It violated rules that stipulated "all ads broadcast on television should protect national dignity and interests and respect the motherland's traditional culture".

Last year, many Chinese took offence at an ad campaign that portrayed stone lions - traditional Chinese symbols of authority - saluting a Toyota Prado car.

The Japanese car maker ended up withdrawing the advertisements and issuing an apology through its Chinese website.
The Japanese want to sell a lot of Toyotas in China, so they concede here, knowing full well, as any even neophyte Asia-watcher does, that this was more about lingering resentment over the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930's. What will Nike do?

UPDATE:
Ohio News Network ran a story on this incident, citing Nike's "edgy" ad's appeal to teens, their target market, which was picked up by AP. Read it here. And yes, they did pull the ad, with apologies.
While Nike quickly backtracked, issuing an apology for the ads from its headquarters here in Oregon, the manufacturer has a long history of edgy sales messages - a strategy that has helped endear Nike to youth by positioning the company as a corporate rebel.

...snip

"It could be an ignorant mistake. Or a marketing misfire," said Bruce Newman, professor of marketing at DePaul University in Chicago. "But it could also be a case of knowing that if they can connect with a young audience - which I'm guessing is in the hundreds of millions, there could be a swelling of demand such that they could care less about what the government says."

Well put, I'd say. From my two years experience teaching Chinese university students, that's a fair appraisal.

// posted by Ellen @  12:30   //Permalink// 
Ellen says hey
Mainer, New Yawka, Beijinger, Californian, points between. News, views and ballyhoos that piqued my interest and caused me to sigh, cry, chuckle, groan or throw something.


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