Advertising and Marketing

For sale: A simple dwelling for plain folks. 3.75 million.

"Not the president's office" - Platinum Palace in 2003.
Beijing's cleaning up its advertising!

From the Reuters article re-posted by China Daily:

Beijing may be capital of a socialist state, but the city's aggressive real estate developers have been reaching for Donald Trump-like capitalist superlatives to sell housing. "Luxurious," "ultra-distinguished," "supreme pleasure" and other terms crowd billboards that promise buyers the life of moguls or aristocrats. "Be a foreigner's landlord!" crowed one advertisement -- in Chinese only -- for buyers to invest in a new apartment block in a Beijing development.
"At present, there is a problem with certain advertising not conforming to the demands of socialist spiritual civilization," the Beijing Administration for Industry and Commerce announced on its Web site ( "Nor do they conform to the simple traditional virtues venerated by the Chinese nation, and they are unhelpful for social harmony."

The ad that read "Be a foreigner's landlord" was for Cosmopolite Boutique Apartments - see China Machete's post from last October for an image.

The Beijing News talked to an ad man who expressed guarded support for the measure.

Li Fangwu, assistant to the secretary of the China Advertising Association, said that advertisements must be appropriate for the construction of socialist spiritual civilization, so thoroughly investigating these ostentatious advertising terms is fine in principle. But as for whether content like "luxury" and "supreme" automatically goes against spiritual civilization - if "luxury" doesn't work, then maybe "venerable" or "royal" are OK. It's not a simple matter to draw lines for checking this; it deserves further in-depth discussion.

Actually, Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan telegraphed the city's decision the previous week when he expressed his displeasure with the use of words connoting luxury and indulgence in advertisements. A short while later, CPPCC member Wu Wenkai said that such advertisements should be cleaned up because they revealed a massive wealth disparity and threatened social harmony.

Commentary in TBN last Tuesday reacted to those opinions:

We know that the "World Hotel" on the side of the road back then was actually our traditional love of face writ large; advertising slogans like "supreme," "mansions," "luxury," and "top-flight enjoyment" today are just the continuation of this tradition. From a commercial perspective, running ads in a place where "face" is bigger than everything means that if you say your homes are just simple residential buildings then you'll probably have a hard time selling them. Homes are one of the largest assets in people's lives; if they cannot excite the buyers' to imagine privileged lives, then do they have to make the buyers believe that they are paying money to be inferior to everyone else? The most important function of advertising is to excite others' imagination about your product. But I believe that such a vision is extremely limited for those people who already have homes.

So, advertising is just the appearance, not the essence.

And whether or not those luxury ads influence social harmony is intimately related to our standards and demands in the pursuit of harmony.

We know that human society is very strange. There's always something missing, something to be adjusted. For example, most lacking in the Victorian era was respect for chastity, so the Englishmen of the time made themselves as formal and serious as they could be on the outside - they had very strict demands for relations between men and women - but privately, this was not the case. We need only look at the immense libraries of privately published pornography to understand that. So I say that we should indeed consider what the standards are in our pursuit of social harmony. As for how luxury advertisements should be handled - that should simply be done according to the law.

Here's Wang Xiaofeng's response to the mayor, translated by occasional Danwei contributor Brendan O'Kane:

Harmonious Terms

by Wang Xiaofeng

Uncle Wang Qishan got miffed at the real estate ads all over Beijing's streets -- the ad copy was detrimental to societal harmony in Beijing, what with all the "SUPREMOs" and "MANSIONs" and "SUPER DELUXEs" and "ULTIMATE PLEASUREs" and words like that.

I'd hazard a guess and say that Uncle Wang was complaining because he saw that the majority of people in Beijing are still living in slums, or maybe because he's noticed that those developments are all just gimcrack construction and cheapo concrete totally undeserving of such highfalutin appelations. So Uncle Wang's bothered, wants to do something about it -- but what's to do? I think ordering the real estate companies not to use certain vocabulary in their ads is about all you can do, just like the way people aren't supposd to use certain 'sensitive' terms online on account of how Uncle Wang is allergic to certain words -- so they have to get filtered out of real estate advertising. This way, when Uncle Wang walks out the door in the morning and looks around him, he'll be surrounded by words like "grassroots," "ordinary people," "general public," "cheap," "cotton clothing," "austere," "spartan," and that kind of thing. Then all will be harmonious for Uncle Wang.

Then a bunch of craphound CPPCC representatives took up the call after him. I've noticed that CPPCC delegates aren't even any good at making mountains out of molehills -- who knows how they got to be delegates in the first place. Delegate Yang Zhenhua said that outdoor advertisements should serve some municipal utility. He brought up Beijing's four goals of "Capital of the Nation," "International City," "Cultural Capital," and "Suitable Living City," which dictate that the city should present an imposing, refined appearance and environment. Delegate Yang has knocked something in his head loose: Does Beijing have culture? Is Beijing a suitable living city? Perhaps the delegate lives somewhere livable, but that doesn't mean that the 10-plus million other Beijing residents are all living in suitable environments. I think Beijingers should print up calendars, 365 days a year, with the entry for each day marked "Venturing out: unsuitable." The real estate companies were just making ads, right? The ads were over the top, right? That's the way these things go: is there anywhere inside Beijing's fifth ring road where you can buy a place for less than ten thousand a square meter? Where you can get an apartment for less than a million? If that's not SUPREMO and SUPER DELUXE, I don't know what is.

The people building houses today are all rich, aren't they? Let them go on being SUPREMO and SUPER DELUXE, and let the CPPCC delegates go on being idiots. As the mayor, Uncle Wang must know something about economics: with housing prices the way they are now, going nowhere but up -- well, isn't that an ULTIMATE PLEASURE, of a sort? Once again, Wang is touching on the surface, but not the substance.

My own economic means do not permit me to purchase a house: regrettably, I'm still a long way from being supremo, or super deluxe, or anywhere near mansions and ultimate pleasures, and I'd guess that there are a lot of Beijingers who are worse off than I am. Since Uncle Wang is so concerned about us regular people, how about coming up with a way to let us regular people live in good homes? Can you do that? No, of course you can't, and if you can't, then why the hell would you make such a fuss about some stupid ads? There are already plenty of problems in Beijing waiting for you to take care of them; don't you worry your head about real estate advertisements. The point is that what you're worrying about isn't a real problem; it's a superficial issue, all surface and no depth.

I'd like to ask Uncle Wang: sir, as a man of broad learning, vast experience, and impeccable political awareness, when you talk about the 'harmonious society,' are you just talking about a society where on the surface everything looks pleasant?

* * *

Southern Metropolis Weekly editor Chang Ping suggests in a Southern Metropolis Daily column today that ostentatious language isn't the worst offender on the walls of Beijing:

Rather than clean up advertisements, why not wipe out all those "demolish" characters?

by Chang Ping / SMD

After a round of press campaigns, the city of Beijing finally had the municipal Administration for Industry and Commerce issue a memo: "All advertising that goes against the construction of socialist spiritual civilization will undergo inspection; 'ostentatious' advertisements will be ordered to be revised." I do not know whether Beijing will hang up banners reading "Standardize advertising language; promote social harmony" because of this, but I believe that this is yet another "strike hard" campaign that catches many businessmen defenseless. I wish that greater force of public opinion than is given to commercial advertisements would be used toward the question of civilization in government administrative actions, because this is more the function of the media, compared to following at the heels of the government as it scolds business.
I have seen overseas real estate advertisements. For example, when I stayed for a time in the US, regularly-issued advertising pamphlets of all types would appear in the free news-box nearby, and the real-estate ads were the thickest and most beautiful. The majority of those ads promoted the indulgence of an "supreme" and "luxury" lifestyle. The difference was that there were also a lot of economical homes to choose from. Like at a supermarket, there are expensive things, and there are also discount items. So first, this is a market supply problem - practical properties should be added to the supply rather than prohibiting the sale of "supreme" ones. The second difference is that these ads did not blanket the street.

China is covered in "supreme" and "luxury" real estate advertisements, they occupy the "supreme" and "luxury" areas of the city; indeed, they are a form of visual pollution, a forcible injection of a consumerist mentality that "stings the hearts of the common people." The question is, how are these advertisements erected? If the common people cannot bear them, why do they have no right to be heard in their own city? What sort of democratic decision-making process should be used to decide how many ads should be erected in a city, where they should be erected, and what limitations should be placed on their content? And for ads that have already undergone the designated process, what sort of democratic decision-making process should be used if they need to be cleaned up? In a society where democratic systems are sensitive, the lack of these decision-making processes obviously "stings the hearts of the common people" more than "ostentatious" advertising content.

Providing businessmen with an education in virtues, while coming out of noble motives, is not at all workable. On the contrary, it may even be condescending to businessmen. Some businessmen are of admirable character - no matter how much money they have, they will not purchase space from the government to place advertising; some poor people are not very civilized -on the walls of their own homes they write slogans like "People who leave behind dogshit are no better than dogs," and "Thieves will be beaten mercilessly." The rich have money and can buy off the market, officials, and the media to give their speech even more power. However, they nevertheless make up a minority of a city's population; common people form the majority. If there were a democratic decision-making process, it could form a system of mutual compromise and mutual restrictions, letting the city truly become a home where the rich and the common people can "harmoniously coexist."

The city today is more like a venue where officials enjoy maximum power. In some places, to attract business and investment, there are regulations that provide special protection for outside businesses, and traffic cops who won't even care if you run a red light. Some places even put up banners reading: "Whoever infringes upon the investors is the enemy of the people." Beijing's officials have long had no need to abase themselves to such an extent before businessmen; the city's appearance has become of paramount importance on the eve of the Olympics, so they are uncomfortable at the sight of advertising content. This shiftiness, this selfish use of power, is what really deserves investigation by a civilized society.

Which brings me to the thought that in the very same realm, more worthy of supervision than commercial advertisements ought to be municipal government slogans. Government slogans are orders issued by the government directly to the people, and their attitude and language ought to be carefully thought out. But when power ranges unchecked, it can begin to shout at any time. Some slogans from rural districts that have circulated widely online demonstrate this: "One extra birth, vasectomies for all!" "Don't marry an illiterate wife; don't marry an illiterate husband!" and so forth. Naturally, Beijing does not have such shouting, but I wonder whether those Beijing residents who go online to mock these "backward" slogans have ever thought about the fact that the reason Beijing does not have such shouting is only because the government does not need it. When the need arises, there's no telling where they'll go first. A classic example is when the government (or licensed enterprises) go and paint a huge "demolish" character on the walls of homes.

What's the real use of these "demolish" characters? Are they a public notice? Could it be that the people concerned are unaware that demolition is coming, and they require this kind of announcement? And if there is a need for an announcement, why isn't it more standardized and complete like other public notices? A friend carefully studied these stinging "demolish" characters and discovered that they are actually equivalent to the crude family planning slogans found on rural village walls. They are verbal violence in the course of government administration, which implies that they come out of powerful, arbitrary warnings and threats.

* * *

For more reading, Raymond Zhou has some nice commentary over at the China Daily, and check out some ostentatious ads found in CBD in 2003 in this classic Danwei post. UPDATE: Jonathan Ansfield at CDT compares ostentatious real estate ads with an ad for 500-yuan-a-carton cigarettes that prominently displays a party-committee endorsement: The Class Problems With Ads That Got None.

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There are currently 1 Comments for For sale: A simple dwelling for plain folks. 3.75 million..

Comments on For sale: A simple dwelling for plain folks. 3.75 million.

I can't speak for the whole city, but it seems that a *lot* of the billboards that have been removed from around the east 3rd ringroad weren't actually real estate related at all. A few friends in the ad industry have been complaining about their car, electronics and other non-real-estate billboards disappearing, without any real reason given by the respective 'billboard service providers'.

It seems the sweep is much broader than just real-estate or "overly" luxurious terms based advertising. Or is it just the enforcement that is overcompensating?

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