Media and Advertising

Photos of Liu Xiang and flying cranes

JDM060507liuxiangs.jpg
Photobook or promotional literature?
A new album of heroic photos of Chinese hurdle champion Liu Xiang hit shelves last month. My Heart is Flying: A Liu Xiang Photobook (我心飞翔·刘翔写真集) sells for 49 yuan; proceeds from sales will be donated to charity schools through the "'Flying' Public Welfare Foundation." The book promises to reveal previously unpublished photos along with new information about circumstances before and after his Olympic victory.

Open it up, however, and you'll find that around 2/5 of the material is unrelated to Liu Xiang or his accomplishments. According to Youth Weekend (青年周末), the "Liu Xiang photobook" has 154 pages, of which just 44 full pages are given over to photos of Liu Xiang. In contrast, there are 36 pages of photos and 21 pages of text devoted to cranes.

JDM060507baishas.jpg
Baisha crane and logo for the "Flying" foundation.
The crane happens to be the emblem of the Baisha Corporation, whose Baisha Cultural and Communication arm engaged Liu Xiang as a celebrity spokesperson shortly after he returned to China with his gold medal. The new book also contains ten pages of text extolling the "match made in heaven" between Liu and Baisha.

What Baisha is most well-known for, however, is its tobacco business. Television ads for Baisha featuring Liu Xiang with the slogan "My Heart is Flying" were banned from Beijing TV because of the tobacco association, and audiences have again questioned the propriety of an Olympic champion - a hero to schoolchildren everywhere - shilling for a cigarette maker.

Is the new book nothing more than an advertising pamphlet for Baisha tobacco? Youth Weekend interviewed Liu Ruhai, an advertising executive who was connected to the last debate over Liu's relationship with Baisha.


Why does Liu Xiang's Photobook have 36 pages of cranes?

In 2004, Lin Ruhai, president of the Dado advertising company in Beijing, questioned Liu Xiang's endorsement of Baisha. At the time he said, "This endorsement is tobacco advertising in disguise," and he hoped that such advertisements would be taken down; otherwise, he would sue the Baisha Group and other parties. Now that the Baisha Cultural Company has put out a Liu Xiang book, this reporter contacted Lin Ruhai who discussed his views on the subject with this newspaper.

Youth Weekly: We don't oppose celebrities doing ads, and we feel that celebrities acting as corporate spokespersons is a reasonable way of making money. But there are readers whose reaction is that this photobook is more like promotional material for the Baisha Group. They feel tricked in a way. We wonder what your view is.
Lin Ruhai: For international athletes, the primary consideration is their influence on youth, so they rarely take on ads for adult or restricted products like tobacco and alcohol. Although in F1 races, teams and car companies may have advertisements endorsing Marlboro cigarettes, but the competitors themselves won't do those kinds of ads. Compared to this, China's celebrity endorsement system is imperfect - it is not conducted in a standard manner, and China's tobacco ads themselves are not standardized. Liu Xiang is a popular hero, but in the commercial realm his actions have shown him to be unfamiliar with it, turning him into a joke, and he has nothing with which to protect himself. Liu Xiang endorsing Baisha is what we call a "concubine ad" (妾广告) in the biz. Here is a brand that at its core is tobacco, but registers a cultural company to take on ads. Those with sharp eyes can tell immediately what's going on - it's just like a mistress. This pokes through a loophole in the laws regulating advertising, and doesn't have a very good effect on society.

YW: More than half of this book is made up of photos of cranes, which cuts away a bit at the feeling of this being a Liu Xiang photobook.
Lin: This book may have been a business operation. This would be irresponsible to the readers, since it would be just a commercial pamphlet for Baisha's tobacco. Rather than a Liu Xiang photobook, it would merely be a spokesperson carrying out his endorsement duties. If a celebrity puts out a photobook, there should be marks of creativity. In general these take the form of personal self-promotion or memories and recollections of past accomplishments, something with a theme. Tian Liang's recent photobook covers his life growing up - it's a book that puts him on display. But Liu Xiang's photobook drowns out his own publicity.

YW: Is there a difference between endorsements by celebrity athletes and endorsements by celebrity performers?
Lin: The role in society of celebrity performers is aimed at the youth, since a relatively large proportion of them are fans. Celebrity athletes, however, have a role in society that aims at the entire public. They are a group that bears the weight of the mission of a people, they are the spokespersons for the people's heroes. The women's volleyball team that one year, for example, put forth "Renewing China," something that was quite thematic and contained strong motivational elements.

YW: Baisha has maintained that Liu Xiang's endorsement of Baisha Culture is cultural marketing far removed from business. What's your take on this statement?
Lin: Baisha's logo - a crane - is itself a commercial entity. It is a trademark, and people connect it with Baisha tobacco. Using elements of this commercial logo in something that is called a public welfare activity is unacceptable.

YW: Baisha Culture Corporation wants to donate all of the proceeds from the book My Heart is Flying to charity schools.
Lin: These are two different things. Sales of this photobook represent direct profits, but the gain to Baisha tobacco is indirect profit. How to allocate these two types of profit is another matter altogether.


YW interviewed Liu Xiang over MSN. Liu liked the composition of the photobook, which arranges photos next to poems, and he said that he was not at all concerned over his image:

My original intentions were pure. The only thing I can do is to put a little effort into this; the more I sell the more charity schools I'll be able to build.

I believe that as long as it's for the public good, I'm more than willing to do it, regardless of what anyone else thinks. It's enough for me to do what I ought to; I'm not scared of hurting my image. If people think that way, I'm saddened - I feel that my good intentions have been impugned. I don't want to think too much about this. Training for the competition is my chief concern.

Links and Sources
There are currently 1 Comments for Photos of Liu Xiang and flying cranes.

Comments on Photos of Liu Xiang and flying cranes

i like liu xiang very much... he is super hero!!!
jia yiu...

China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
laomo2010x80.jpg
From 2008
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao (2007.11): Mid-2007 issues of Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), illustrating the complicated identity of in-house magazines run by real estate companies.
+ Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship (2010.03): Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship at an officially sanctioned meeting in Shenzhen.
+ Crowd-sourced cheating on the 2010 gaokao (2010.06): A student in Sichuan seeks help with the ancient Chinese section of this year's college entrance exam -- while the test is going on!
Danwei Archives