You may recall last year, it was announced that China was spending bundles of money to create an advertisement designed to appeal to US audiences and turn the tide of US public opinion. All of China’s shiniest celebrities were called in, and then it all disappeared from the news.
But with Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has come news that the advertisement is out, and now it, or at least clips of it, are being played on the giant screens in Times Square! So what did the Chinese government decide was the best way to convince Americans to like China? Observe:
OK, maybe we’re not getting the whole picture from that news report, and we also can’t hear whatever audio will go with the ad, but it appears to consist of (1) shots of Chinese celebrities standing around and (2) a big 中国 (which Americans can’t read) next to a very tiny “China”. Um, what?
Actually, on the face of it, I sort of like the principle I imagine they started with: China has some cool, and unique, people, and Americans don’t really know that because China is some faceless “othery” place to them. This is true. However, this approach to introducing Chinese people to the US is, well, dumb.
First of all, regardless of what the audio says, the people are doing absolutely nothing in any of these shots, which makes them unmemorable and pointless. They don’t serve to illustrate anything other than that Chinese people exist, which was something Americans already knew. Seriously, you got together sixty of China’s most beautiful, famous people, and then asked them to stand around for a while?
(If you’re curious who, exactly, is standing around, check out this list the Baidu Beat folks have put together from the footage we have so far.)
Secondly, I wonder about the use of celebrities at all, given that 95% of the people in the video aren’t people Americans know or will be impressed by at all. I don’t think anyone is going to see that video and think, “Wow, Tan Dun is Chinese!” Most people have no clue who Tan Dun is, and those who do know him already know that he’s Chinese. As the one woman they ask about it in the news report above says, “I know Yao Ming, and uh, some of the supermodels…”
It is also worth pointing out that they obviously didn’t attempt to rework the ad at all to make it fit on those Times Square screens, so in many of the shots half of the names are obscured, people are cut out, etc. Bush league.
Maybe the audio somehow turns it into a captivating, mind-blowing coup d’etat somehow. But I highly doubt it.
It’s telling that at the end of that news report, the only American they ask about the ad as a whole says the advertisement is “moving” because it shows “where people work” and “their fields of interest.” Captivating!
I look forward to seeing the full video as it will air (or perhaps is already airing?) on US TV. But based on this quick introduction, this whole thing seems like a colossal waste of time and money. Can’t say that surprises me at all.
UPDATE: We now have the full video.
It is even worse than I imagined, and I will write more about it later today or tomorrow, but in the interim, here it is for your (lack of) enjoyment. (Here’s a China-friendly version)
UPDATE 2: The release of the full video obliges me to add a couple things to my original assessment. First, the audio adds absolutely nothing to the video in terms of context, so I was right about that. Second, the design of the video itself is fairly flawed. Granted, we’re watching compressed web videos, so the colors are off and the resolution is low, but even at 420p, the names of the Chinese people in the video above are unreadable, and even the larger white text is very difficult to read when it is against a white backdrop. Presumably, if I were watching this on a large HD TV, these issues would be resolved, but it seems odd to design an advertisement with text too small to read in a web video and (I suspect) also to small to read on a standard-def TV when sitting a reasonable distance away.
There is one angle from which we might consider this ad a win for China, see the comments of Christopher C. Heselton below for more details on that. It’s possible that’s all their goal was with the ad, and if so, they have probably succeeded. But it’s equally clear that this ad is utterly meaningless to foreigners. Hard to know for sure whether or not the government really cares.