Tag: advertising


Mar 2018

Not so clever use of “carry”

Saw this ad on the Shanghai Metro:


The top line of the text is a definition of the English word “carry,” used in the ad copy below:

*注:CARRY = 带领、支撑

Here’s a tip: if you need to define the foreign word, there’s a good chance it doesn’t belong in your ad.


Jan 2018

Turbo Bandwagon

This ad made me wonder: cultural differences aside, is the bandwagon effect stronger in China because there’s a larger population? Similarly, is the bandwagon effect more powerful when used in advertising in China?

200,000,000 Chinese people use Daily Youxian

The ad reads:


200 million Chinese people use Miss Fresh

The brand name is 每日优鲜, which could be translated to something like “Daily Excellent Fresh.” But then they called themselves “Miss Fresh” in English, so that’s the name I used.


Nov 2017

XU! (you can be high and quiet)

Spotted this sign on 老外街 (“Laowai Street”) on Hongmei Road (虹梅路).


First of all, “xu” in pinyin is how you spell the word for “SHHH” (the “shushing” sound) in Chinese. It even has a character: .

Second, the translation “don’t be too noisy still get happy” is understandable, I guess, but let’s look at the original Chinese:


So 声音小一点 refers to one’s voice being a little quieter. The “if” part and the “you” subject are implied.

The 一样 means “the same,” but here it’s more naturally translated as “equally” or “just as.”

The “HIGH” in Chinese is not (usually) some kind of drug-induced state, but rather the “natural high” of just getting all excited and having a blast. There could be some drinking involved (think karaoke), but the emphasis is on the fun had.

The interesting thing here is that the word “HIGH” in Chinese is translated as “happy” in the English version. In fact, a co-worker of mine told me that she used to assume that the Chinese word “high” (sometimes written as ““) was derived from the English word “happy” (a direct translation of 开心), rather than the English word “high.” (Who knows!)

And finally, the 起来 is the “expressing initiation” direction complement form. It has a before it to turn the –起来 direction complement into a potential complement. In effect, “have fun” becomes “can have fun.”

I’d use this translation:

Being a little quieter,
you can still have
just as much fun.

Not as much fun, though, right? (XU!)

Nov. 13, 2017 Update: a friend wanted more explanation of the complement thing, so here it is, copied over from Facebook comments:

Question: The example in the Chinese Grammar Wiki makes sense: 早上 五点 出发 , 孩子们 起 得 来 吗 ?… but that is 起得来 not 起起来!

Answer: In that example, 起 is a verb, and 来 is the direction complement. You insert 得 between the two to make it into a potential complement, adding the meaning of “can.” 起得来 = can get up.

The same is true for HIGH, only the complement is 起来 (in this case, 起 is not the verb). So that’s how you get HIGH得起来. (This one is harder to translate literally, though… “can get high” would be literal, but misleading (no drugs!).) “Can have a blast” is closer to the meaning, but you lose more of the V+起来 literal translation. “Can get happy” maybe, if you don’t mind a little Chinglish!)

In the blog entry, I linked to one grammar point on uses of 起来, and another on potential complements. It’s the combination of the two that you need to understand to fully get this. It’s a little tricky!


Sep 2017

What is “Tea Pi”?

I’m used to seeing English words mixed in with Chinese advertising copy, and even product names, but this name took me by surprise:


茶π“?! Why in the world…?

I showed this to some Chinese friends, asking them why anyone would put π in the name of a bottled tea drink. No one had an answer.

I speculated that maybe the “π” was being used as a pun on , meaning “faction” or “clique”? They didn’t really like that theory, but they had nothing better to offer.

In my foolish optimism, I searched online for the answer, and discovered it in this article:




What is “Tea Pi,” you ask?

Nongfu Spring‘s official answer: a combination of tea and fruit flavors, infinitely unrepeating π, which is also our infinitely unrepeating youth!

Uhhh… there’s nothing I can say to that!

Translation: kids these days like random stuff.


Aug 2017

Korean BBQ Font Creativity

I found this sign interesting, both for the characterplay with the , as well as for the interesting font design (which, unfortunately, also makes it a bit harder for learners to read):


The top reads 江南 (Jiangnan), which is the Chinese equivalent of “Gangnam” (yes, as in “Style”).

The bottom hard-to-read part says 偶巴尔坛, a transliteration of the Korean word “Obaltan” (오발탄), which apparently is the best Korean movie ever made? (I’m a bit out of my depth on this one.) Anyway, don’t feel bad for not knowing what 偶巴尔坛 is as a Chinese learner!


Apr 2017

Going “Gaga” In Ads

There’s a word (“ga”) in Shanghainese (and other Wu fangyan) that just means “really” or “very.” Because it’s not standard Mandarin, you don’t see it written a whole lot, but I noticed it in two different ads in Shanghai recently (and one even has pinyin!):


噶便宜 – really cheap

Also, extra points for:

WOW – “WOW-est”


嘎实惠 – really a good deal

(And yes, if you want to try using this adverb, you are quite likely to amuse your Chinese friends.)

UPDATE: Commenter Lin and reader Danny point out something I glossed over in the original post: the first ad uses the character , and the second ad uses . Both are “gā” in this context. So what’s the difference? Well, the short answer is that since this is not a standard word (both characters can be found in the authoritative 现代汉语词典 dictionary, but neither list this meaning), there is no “officially correct” character for it. In my experience, however, is more widely used, and it’s also the one my computer’s pinyin input prompts first.


Mar 2017

JD.com Brings Some Diversity to Spring Advertising

I’m not saying it never happens, but I see black women prominently featured in Chinese ads seldom enough that I notice when it happens. These ads from the Shanghai Metro are by JD.com (京东), which is a Chinese company, not just a foreign company doing business in China.




There’s also one ad with pale (half-?)Asian girl, and one with random perky white dude:



The ads all read:


That means, “it’s you that made the spring come.” Not the most inspired slogan, but easy for Chinese learners!


Mar 2017

Recruiting Talent

The character here is (as in 招聘, referring to “recruiting for a job,” in other words, “now hiring”), with a little thrown in for flavor:


That’s not the adverb , but rather the one in the word 人才, referring to “talent.”

P.S. On a related note, my company AllSet Learning is currently looking for new academic interns. You can see what past interns have done here.


Jan 2017

Happy New Year Teeth

Chinese New Year is just around the corner, and I bring you this pun/characterplay combo. Unfortunately, neither is particularly clever, but at least it’s not hard to understand!


The large text of the ad reads:


This basically just means “happy New Year,” but the on the end is a modal particle you hear a lot in Shanghai. It adds a tone of playfulness, possibly childishness.

The pun is on 好牙, which refers to “good teeth.” (The two-character word for “tooth” or “teeth” is 牙齿). And since it’s an ad for dental services, the pun on good teeth is quite appropriate.

But do you see where the 口 component of (the modal particle) is actually a tooth? That’s the characterplay aspect. But the weird thing is that if you take away the 口, what’s left actually does literally mean “tooth.”

Anyway, 新年好!


Dec 2016

The more you read…

I like these subway ads for the QQ阅读 app:




The ads have been running for months already. The app is QQ阅读, an ebook reader app. 阅读 in Chinese can mean “to read” or “reading.”

The main line in the ad is:


The more you read, the more you understand yourself.

It’s a great usage of the 越……越…… (the more… the more…) grammar structure. But, in case you didn’t notice… it’s also a pun. It’s an ad for QQ阅读 (Yuèdú), and it starts with 越读 (Yuè dú).

This is one of the least cringeworthy ads I’ve seen in Chinese marketing, I must say! (No, I haven’t tried the app.)


Oct 2016

Verbing for the Summer

Summer is over, but I can’t help sharing this 一下 / 一夏 pun:


It reads:


The “喝一夏” part is punning on a very common use of 一下 after a verb, whereas the “冰一夏” part is punning on the same usage in a less typical way.

An uninspired translation would be, “have a drink and cool off.” (Sorry, I have no inspired translation!)


Aug 2016

Chinese Characters with Disney Characteristics

I noticed this poster in the Shanghai Metro:


You gotta love Disney’s attention to detail. If you look at the characters carefully, you’ll see that elements of the iconic “Disney” typography have been incorporated into the Chinese characters:


(Oh, and nope, I’m still not planning any new trips to Shanghai Disneyland!)


Jun 2016

Of Forests and Graves

How do you turn a forest into a grave? Check out this innovative ad I spotted on the Shanghai Metro:


The (altered) character is , meaning “forest.” The text below it reads:


In English:

If the trees all disappear, forests will turn into graves.

To understand the message, you have to know that the character , meaning “forest,” is made up of three , which each mean “tree.” And does indeed look like a little cross when you take away the two diagonal strokes.

Part of what makes this interesting to me is that crosses are, of course, not a feature of Chinese graveyards at all. Here’s a picture of a Chinese cemetary:


Still, innovative ad that drives the point home. Well done.


Jun 2016

Rebecca Wigs: Fake Hair, Real Me

There’s a brand of high-quality wigs in China called Rebecca. The Chinese tagline for these wigs is:



The simple slogan (great for beginners!) sets up a nice contrast between the words (fake) and (real). It doesn’t translate well into English, though, because the word for “wig” in Chinese is 假发, quite literally, “fake hair.” So here are your two most obvious direct translation candidates:

  1. “Fake hair, real me”
  2. “Wig, real me”

Pretty bad. The wigs themselves look pretty gorgeous, though, and Rebecca hired Chinese superstar babe 范冰冰 (Fan Bingbing) is their model:



The Rebecca wigs also occasionally stray into the “slightly less than practical,” apparently:



Sep 2015

McDonalds Getting its Pun on

I spotted a punny McDonalds ad in the subway yesterday that might not be obvious to a lot of learners:


The ad presupposes knowledge of the word 充电宝, which is a pretty recent word, and isn’t in a lot of dictionaries yet. 充电 means “to recharge” (electricity, but sometimes metaphorically as well). means “treasure” and is also used in the common word for “baby” (宝宝), but here it just means “thing.” 充电器 already means “charger” (for electronics), but the difference here is that a 充电宝 is a battery that can be carried with you and used to recharge you smartphone. These portable chargers seem to be way more popular in China than the battery-extending cases (Mophie and the like) I’ve seen a number of Americans use.


OK, so back to the pun. It’s focused on the “bǎo” part of 充电宝 (portable charger). It uses the character , meaning “full”. It creates the sense that a meal at McDonalds is a “recharging fill” (not “full recharge”).

Anyway, you get the idea.


May 2015

Roofies, Counterfeit Money, and Firearms

I’m used to seeing ads for fake IDs everywhere in China (sometimes as a stamp, sometimes just written in permanent black marker, nothing more than the word 办证 and a phone number), but I was surprised by this ad. I encountered it in a public restroom near Mogan Shan (莫干山):

Illegal Stuff

The ad is the black stamp on the “step closer to the urinal” PSA, and it’s selling three things:

迷药 (something like roofies)
假币 (counterfeit money)
枪支 (firearms)

All of these, obviously, are highly illegal in China. I’m not sure how such a brazen method of advertising illegal goods can be pulled off (even outside the big city).


Dec 2014

“Double 12”: China’s Cyber Monday

Today is December 12, AKA 双十二, literally, “double twelve” in Chinese. It’s a day when Taobao (淘宝) and JD.com (京东) offer huge discounts online (and this year, Taobao is really pushing its AliPay mobile phone payments, sort of similar to Apple Pay, but using barcodes on users’ phone screens instead of NFC). So today is kind of like China’s Cyber Monday.

12-12 is clearly riffing on 双十一 (“double eleven”), a modern Chinese holiday that was once known as “Singles Day” (光棍节) but has since been largely co-opted by online retailers and remolded as China’s Black Friday.

At first I was kind of amazed that this 12-12 holiday even “took.” It’s just such blatant commercialism to follow up a 11-11 shopping holiday with a 12-12 shopping holiday. But so far, as long as the discounts keep coming, no one seems to mind. What’s next, co-opting 1-1 (元旦节)? I have to say, 双一 certainly doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Some screenshots for today’s sales from the aforementioned sites:

Taobao 12-12 Sale

Taobao 12-12 Sale

JD  12-12 Sale

I’m not buying anything. I’m having my own little Buy Nothing Day. (不消费日 in Chinese, but make no mistake: this is not a familiar concept in China, and people find it pretty ridiculous.)


Dec 2014

9 Polite Phrases for the Subway

The following photo was snapped in a subway. It’s a public service announcement (or “propaganda poster,” if you prefer) that reminds passengers to be polite. I thought it was kind of interesting to take note of what expressions were chosen to illustrate politeness.

Polite Words and Phrases

Here are the words, with pinyin and English translations, and a few observations of my own:

  1. : please

    This clearly polite word is nevertheless just a little awkward for foreigners trying to speak polite Chinese, because it’s not nearly as ubiquitous as “please” is in English.

  2. 没关系: it doesn’t matter

    The nice response to “I’m sorry.”

  3. 同志: comrade

    This word is a bit old-fashioned. It’s also modern slang for a gay person.

  4. 您请坐: please sit

    is the polite form of , plus you have the in there. You might say this if you were being super polite to an elderly passenger while giving up your seat. ( is also more common in northern China.)

  5. 谢谢: thank you

    Can’t go wrong with “thank you!”

  6. 您好: hello

    is the polite form of , so this is the politer form of 你好. (It also poses a translation problem… Maybe you come close if you use “hi” for 你好 and “hello” for 您好? The difference is still bigger in Chinese, though.) The expression 您好 also reminds me of customer service reps.

  7. 不客气: you’re welcome

    Literally, “don’t be polite.”

  8. 再见: goodbye

    I never really thought of this as polite, exactly, but I guess it’s better than taking leave without a word?

  9. 对不起: I’m sorry

    Of course.


Sep 2014

A Pun for Mooncake Day

Today is Mid-Autumn Moon Festival in China, so here’s a little moon pun for you:

moon puns

The first line is where the pun resides. It reads:

> 月圆月期待 [moon round moon looking forward (to it)]

This is pretty nonsensical because the character for moon, “” has replaced the identical-sounding character . Most intmermediate learners will recognize this character as being part of the 越……越…… pattern.

So the meaning is:

> 越圆越期待 [The rounder it is, the more you look forward to it]

Still seems kind of nonsensical to me (in this context, anyway), but it’s just a lame pun for a billboard.

The brand an product is:

> 元祖雪月饼 [Ganso “Snow” Mooncakes]

Happy Mooncake Day!

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