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Advertising in China

Much is being written these days about the enormous current and future impact of the Chinese market on global corporations. Preparing advertising campaigns for China presents challenges equivalent to the opportunities that this huge culture presents. Not only do differences in basic infrastructure from regulation to distribution present puzzles, the fundamental differences in the symbol systems, both written and pictorial, create many chances for miscommunication and offense.

This issue of Advertising & Society Review offers several articles about advertising in China that I hope will be of use to scholars, students, and professionals seeking to learn about this burgeoning economy and its ancient culture. The first article, by Zhihong Gao, begins by identifying several recent situations in which multinational advertising has caused offense in China, then proceeds to discuss the issue from a legal and regulatory perspective. Needless to say, the regulatory environment in China is greatly different from that in the West—especially from the American environment in which many commercials originate—and it is also in a state of rapid flux. Professor Gao's article traces the evolution of these changes in the Chinese legal environment in a way many readers are sure to find helpful.

The second article, by Professors Fengru Li and Nader Shooshtari, examines two recently banned advertisements for Nike and Toyota. However, Li and Shooshtari examine the two campaigns using a sociolinguistic approach that highlights the differences between alphabetic writing and the Chinese script and, hence, the very different way that China's symbol systems work in tandem. These authors also show how the implicit relationship between the "speaker" (in this case, Nike or Toyota) and the audience changes what can be said without causing offense, particularly with regard to the use of highly charged traditional Chinese symbols, such as stone lions. Their article suggests strongly that much more local knowledge is needed beyond mere linguistic competence or a passing familiarity with Chinese symbolism, if commercials are to be aired in China without courting disaster. Finally, their work argues powerfully in favor of keen attention to local advice prior to airing commercials made elsewhere. Professors Li and Shooshtari have also kindly provided translations of some consumer criticism of these two campaigns that was posted on Chinese internet sites. These comments clearly show both the intensity of feeling behind the commentary and the multiplicity of views among the Chinese—as with other audiences around the world.

Lastly, an article by Nader Tavassoli, a widely recognized expert on the reading and cognitive differences between Chinese consumers and alphabetic readers in the West, explores how the problems examined in the first two articles also have deep roots in Chinese reading strategies. It also examines how these basic differences in both the manner of representation and the cognitive processing required in this culture have dramatic implications for the way consumers in China may respond to an advertisement or brand sign.

With the keen interest now being shown by the global marketing community in this rich and complex culture, I think the articles in the current issue of Advertising & Society Review are likely to intrigue and benefit many readers.

Linda M. Scott
Editor