Tag: advertising


15

Sep 2020

Punning Pronouns for Finance

I’ve been seeing these ads in Shanghai recently:

财富在这「理」

The key line is this one:

财富在这「理」

Here you have a pun on the word 这里 (“here”), substituting for . They sound very similar.

财富在这「理」

So the punned sentence sounds like it’s saying “wealth is here” (a basic sentence), but if you read the characters, it’s saying, “wealth is managed here,” using 在 to specify location. This is because can mean “manage,” as in the phrase “理财” (“to manage wealth,” or “wealth management”).

But here’s another thing you might not know: in informal Chinese, can stand in for 这里 or 这儿. (Same for and 那里/那儿, but not so much .)

财富在这「理」

That’s sort of an intermediate grammar point, and not super common. If you’re still working on basic question words, be sure to check out the Chinese Grammar Wiki’s article: Placement of Question Words.


12

Aug 2020

Characterception

Spotted near Zhongshan Park in Shanghai:

characterception

Big text:

广告招商 (guǎnggào zhāoshāng) advertisers wanted

Characterceptioned text:

虚位以待 (xū wèi yǐ dài) spots currently available

But what’s perhaps most interesting (infuriating?) about this ad is the way that this text is read…

  1. First down the left column, then down the right (广告, 招商)
  2. Then left to right across the top, then left to right across the bottom (虚位, 以待)

Have you ever noticed how hard it can be to figure out how to interpret 4 characters in a 2×2 grid? If you don’t already know the phrases used, this kind of text layout is super hard to read. That’s because there are three possible ways to read the 4 characters:

  1. Left to right, across the top (modern horizontal)
  2. Top to bottom, left to right (modern vertical)
  3. Top to bottom, right to left (classical vertical)

This example is particularly egregious, though, since it mixes two orientations, and the phrase “广告招商” could also be understood as “招商广告”.

P.S. This ad wouldn’t work in traditional Chinese, because 广 (guǎng) in traditional is 廣 (guǎng). No big loss, though!


14

Jul 2020

The Leading Fresh Pun

I keep seeing this ad for dumplings (水饺), so I finally took a pic:

Fresh Pun

Here’s the part with the pun, conveniently indicated with quotation marks:

Fresh Pun

汤汁水饺的领“鲜”者

The pun uses the word 领先, meaning “to be in the lead” (ahead of the competition). Adding turns 领先 into 领先者, meaning the “leaders” in the field. In this ad, the 先 (xiān), meaning “first,” is replaced with 鲜 (xiān), meaning “fresh.”

So they’re claiming to be the leaders in freshness when it comes to broth-filled dumplings.


04

Mar 2020

Gal Gadot in the Shanghai Subway

The last time this company’s ads featured Chloe Bennet (star of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Well, it seems they have a thing for female superheroes, because now Gal Gadot (AKA Wonder Woman) is all over the Shanghai Metro.

Gal Gadot + Boss recruiting
Gal Gadot + Boss recruiting
Gal Gadot + Boss recruiting
Gal Gadot + Boss recruiting

I didn’t notice this until I looked up my old blog post, but it’s kind of funny thing that she’s wearing almost exactly the same outfits as Chloe Bennet was.

I’m well aware that little boys in China loooove Marvel superheroes (my own 5yo is one of them). Aside from Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, etc., they also love Captain America. I always thought this was kind of funny, since China is pretty nationalistic and has a complicated relationship with the USA. No one seems to think anything of it, though. And the love extends well into adulthood… plenty of young men are totally into Marvel superheroes, obviously (those movies sure do well here).

So this ad campaign makes me wonder how into female superheroes Chinese women are. Is that a thing? Or are they just two attractive Hollywood stars that wound up in ads in China?


12

Dec 2019

TA: Pinyin with a Purpose

Mastery of pinyin is important for every beginner learner of Mandarin Chinese. This much is widely agreed upon (although not always thoroughly executed). But what about adult native speakers of Chinese? Aside from using pinyin to type, or maybe occasionally to look up an obscure character which they can guess the reading for, there’s not much use for pinyin in their literate lives, right?

Well, you’re mostly right. Pinyin is mostly supplanted by characters among the literate Chinese population. But there is one small exception: TA.

TA-1
TA-2

These Shanghai Metro ads are entirely in Chinese except for the “TA.” This phenomenon is fairly common in advertising in China, although these are definitely the best examples I’ve seen because not only are they incredibly clear and highly visible, but they also actually include the meaning of the pinyin “TA” in characters underneath. In case you can’t see clearly, what it says under “TA” is:

他 / 她

So the point of using “TA” instead of characters is that it leaves the gender unassigned, so that the hypothetical person referred to in the ad can be male or female in the minds of the consumers. I’ve noticed that it is typically written in all caps, as well.

This is, in essence, doing what pinyin does best: providing the sound while leaving the meaning in question. This is something that Chinese characters are often not especially well-suited for, particularly in this case.

(Ironically, the character 他 was not always a “male pronoun” but it kind of evolved that way, and only in the 20th century. Now to escape that corner 他 has been boxed into, the new generation is turning to pinyin.)


For a more scholarly take, be sure to read Victor Mair’s article on Language Log: The degendering of the third person pronoun in Mandarin (Dr. Mair always gets to these topics first!)


27

Mar 2019

Chloe Bennett in the Shanghai Metro

When I first saw these ads, I felt that this woman looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her, and the Chinese name 汪可盈 didn’t mean anything to me.

chloe-bennett-in-shanghi-03

I also felt like she didn’t look 100% ethnically Chinese, despite the Chinese name (and lack of English name).

chloe-bennett-in-shanghi-02

Turns out this is Chloe Bennett, the star of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

chloe-bennett-in-shanghi-01

It’s kind of interesting how her English name in the U.S. shows no trace of Chinese heritage, but when she appears on ads in China, her English name is not used at all.

chloe-bennett-in-shanghi-04

Turns out that “Wang” is her surname by birth (her father is Chinese), and she actually pursued a singing career in mainland China as a teenager, using the name 汪可盈.

According to Wikipedia:

While pursuing an acting career in Hollywood, she changed her name to “Chloe Bennet,” after having trouble booking gigs with her last name. According to Bennet, using her father’s first name, rather than his last name avoids difficulties being cast as an ethnic Asian American while respecting her father.

Furthermore, she has explained Hollywood’s racism this way:

“Oh, the first audition I went on after I changed my name [from Wang to Bennet], I got booked. So that’s a pretty clear little snippet of how Hollywood works.”


The ad, using super simple Chinese, reads:

找工作 [(when) looking for a job]
我要跟 [I want to]
老板谈 [talk with the boss]


13

Mar 2019

Geese in the Mall

This ad is hanging in Shanghai’s “Cloud 9” (龙之梦) shopping mall:

e-e-e

First of all the repeating character is , which means “goose.” In the circular logo, you can see a little characterplay going on with the goose head.

Above that, you have “鹅,鹅,鹅” which, of course, reads “goose, goose, goose.” This is a famous first line of a classical Chinese poem. It’s famous because it’s so simple, so a lot of kids memorize it as one of their first (if not the first) classical poems committed to memory.

Here’s the poem in its entirety:

鹅 鹅 鹅,
曲 项 向 天 歌。
白 毛 浮 绿 水,
红 掌 拨 清 波。

And in English (source):

Goose, goose, goose,
You bend your neck towards the sky and sing.
Your white feathers float on the emerald water,
Your red feet push the clear waves.

The banner is an ad for a restaurant, 鹅夫人, or “Madame Goose.”


05

Dec 2018

“Meng” Characterplay

I spotted this ad on the Shanghai Metro:

盟盟

The name of the service is 盟盟 (and apparently all the good domain names have been taken for that one). You can see how the “盟” character blends nicely into the drawing of the ship.

But no, the brand has nothing to do with ships or cruises or whatever… So while the characterplay looks like it kind of works, the picture really has nothing to do with what 盟盟 is all about: franchising (加盟) other brands.


21

Nov 2018

11-11: Blinded by Consumerism

The “Double 11” (AKA “Singles Day”) Chinese shopping holiday has been over for 10 days, but I think this is still worth sharing. This ad by Tmall remains the best (unintentional) metaphor for “blinded by consumerism” that I’ve seen:

Blinded by Consumerism (TMall)

Blinded by Consumerism (TMall)

Blinded by Consumerism (TMall)

Blinded by Consumerism (TMall)

The mask is in the shape of Tmall‘s logo, a cat. Tmall’s Chinese name is 天猫, which literally means “Sky Cat,” but it seems like it was chosen based on the English name (“T” for Taobao, which owns Tmall, and “mao” sounds like “mall” to Chinese ears).

TMall Cat (天猫)

It’s funny that you sometimes see the 双11 (literally, “Double 11”) manufactured holiday translated in English as “Singles Day” (formerly “Bachelor’s Day”). This day was once celebrated as such, but in a few short years, the shopping aspect has completely taken over the “holiday.” Single people feel entirely irrelevant now. But hey… who cares about human connections when you can spend money on all these great deals??


17

Oct 2018

Deciphering “skr” Slang

So there’s this word “skr” being used a lot in China these days, mainly by Chinese kids online. As with any popular internet slang, however, it has found its way into real-world marketing materials. Here’s a usage I spotted the other day in Shanghai:

sheng-skr-ren

So the part we’re focused on here is:

省skr人

Which means, essentially:

省死个人

This could be restated as:

(人)可以省很多钱

If you’re trying to make sense of “skr,” it’s usually used to replace 是个 or 死个 (normally it should be the intensifying , as in the example above). The word has its roots in Chinese hip hop, and specifically the performer 吴亦凡 [Baidu Baike link], who is pictured several times in the GIFs below (red background).

This is a screenshot from a search of WeChat’s 表情 animated GIFs showing how popular “skr” currently is:

skr-stickers

(I don’t expect this popularity will last.)


11

Oct 2018

EF’s “REAL Foreign Teachers”: Progress or Dog Whistle?

I spotted this EF advertisement here in Shanghai recently:

REAL English Teachers!!!

The text reads:

在英孚,我们
只用真正的外教

  • 100% TEFL/TKT双证上岗
  • 100% 全职教学
  • 100% 大学以上学历

A translation:

At English First, we
only use real foreign teachers

  • 100% TEFL/TKT double certification
  • 100% full-time teaching
  • 100% university graduates

So you see a white face and the promise of “REAL foreign teachers.” Is this some kind of racist ad? No, no, you are mistaken: they’re referring to the qualifications of their teachers, which just happens to be written in smaller type below. It’s just a coincidence that the teacher they chose for the ad is white, right?

This seems like a dog whistle advertisement to me. They’re communicating with the racist segment of their target market while also maintaining plausible deniability.

What do you think?


12

Sep 2018

Shanghai Subway Ads that Teach Chinese Grammar

Sometimes it feels like the environment is actively trying to teach certain words or grammar patterns. Recently I’ve been seeing this series of ads in the Shanghai Metro every day:

JD.com Ad 1

不为朋友圈而运动

JD.com Ad 3

不为跟风而运动

JD.com Ad 5

不为赶时髦而运动

JD.com Ad 4

不为别人的眼光而运动

JD.com Ad 2

不为自拍而运动

In this case, the pattern is a negative version of 为……而……. The pattern 为……而…… indicates doing a certain action for a certain purpose (apparently the red line is just there to emphasize “NOT for this purpose”). I discovered that this pattern was not yet on the Chinese Grammar Wiki, so I immediately added it: Explaining purpose with “wei… er…”.

The ads are interesting, because they come from JD.com (京东), which presumably sells sporting clothing and equipment (the ad mentions 京东体育), but it’s not made explicit what’s for sale. Furthermore, JD.com take a stance on values which seem to go counter to what a lot of young Chinese people are doing these days, and the values they’re advocating don’t seem to clearly lead to greater sales for JD.com.

The ads roughly translate to:

  • Exercise, not for your WeChat Moments [China’s version of Instagram]
  • Exercise, not just because everyone else is
  • Exercise, not to keep up with the trends
  • Exercise, not because of what other people think
  • Exercise, not for the selfies

(As you can see, it’s also challenging to translate the 为……而…… pattern into English in a consistent way. It would be nice to use “for” in all of them, but it just doesn’t work for some of them.)


23

Aug 2018

Extreme Characterplay with Furniture

It might be hard to make out the characters used in this furniture store’s ad:

生活现场 (MEHOS)

They are: 生活现场. 生活现场 is a phrase that’s not easy to translate… if you ask a native speaker what it means, they’ll have trouble answering you without a context. It’s something like “scenes of daily life.” The characterplay kind of works, I guess… I like the the best. The is not impressive.

Anyway, the ad is for 美好家 (MEHOS), a furniture store in Shanghai.


26

Jun 2018

Eat Less Meat, says Huang Xuan

I spotted these pro-veggie ads in the Shanghai Metro recently:

少吃肉 (Shao chi rou_

少吃肉 [Eat less meat]

多走走 [Walk more]

少吃肉 (Shao chi rou_

少吃肉 [Eat less meat]

多福寿 [Be happier and live longer]

The obvious grammar points here are 少 + V and 多 + V (which don’t tend to come naturally to English speakers).

This is good to see, because as anyone who has lived in China should know, the (even remotely) affluent Chinese consume quite a bit of meat these days (and waste a lot of it, too).

蔬食 (shu shi)

The ads aren’t too clever, but the message is good, and there’s even a spot of characterplay in there. 蔬食 refers to a “vegetarian diet.”

The guy featured in the ad is 黄轩, an actor, and the ads are sponsored by WildAid.

Related links:


06

Jun 2018

The Chinese Concept of “Dirty”

As a parent, I am keenly aware of all the work that goes into educating a child on what is “dirty” and how to avoid getting dirty, as well as why getting dirty is (normally) bad. The concept of “dirty” is surprisingly complex when you think about it, since some of it is visible and some not, and the “clean” and “dirty” objects can have all kinds of interactions. You really just have to be taught.

This issue reminds me of an experience I had years ago in Hangzhou. Quoting a blog post from 2005:

Shortly after I arrived in China, I went on a trip to a park with some Chinese friends. It had been a while since I had seen grass, so I was happy to sprawl out on it, which promptly resulted in my Chinese friends’ disapproval. “It’s dirty!” they told me. I just shook my head. In a corner of the world where there’s so little nature left to enjoy, they regard what little is left as “dirty”? That’s so sad! Then, as an afterthought, I ran my hand across the grass. My palm was turned gray. Dust. From the grass.

That little incident drove home that I really didn’t know how everything worked here, even when I was so sure I had it all figured out.

Just like children, as a China newbie, I, too, had to be educated on what was “dirty” in my new environment.

A similar example comes to mind: foreigners often think nothing of storing their bag on the ground next to their desks or chairs, but this frequently causes Chinese acquaintances to recoil in disgust. In China, you don’t put things you want to keep clean (like your bag) on the ground, even indoors. You also don’t put your bag on your bed at home. There are lots of “rules” to learn.

I was surprised, then, to see this ad:

Untitled

“脏”显个性 [“Dirty” shows personality]

Of course we have “dirty desserts” in English as well, which is likely the source of this idea. But this concept feels even more eye-catching in China, where you’ve got to constantly be on your guard against the “dirt.”


29

May 2018

Teachers Under Attack in Advertising?

I noticed these ads on the Shanghai Metro recently:

teacher-attack1

妈妈, [Mom,]
Tom老师
教我的发音 [The pronunciation Teacher Tom taught me]
Amy老师说不对! [Teacher Amy says is not correct]

teacher-attack2

妈妈, [Mom,]
今天外教 [today the foreign teacher]
把我的名字 [got my name]
叫错了三次

“Dada English” is one of a new wave of Chinese online English learning platforms which includes “VIP KID.” What makes these platforms special is that they all purport to offer native speakers as teachers, and many of them are from North America or Europe. (I understand that some of the competition uses mostly teachers from the Philippines.) The first ad above emphasizes 欧美外教: teachers from North America and Europe.

What about the Chinese teacher of English? A resource long known to be often “less than perfect” with regard to native-like English abilities and yet nevertheless a crucial component of the educational system, is not even a part of the discussion these ads are trying to create. Rather, it’s a matter of where your foreign teacher is from and how professional he is.

I’m really curious if there is enough of the right kind of labor in North America and Europe to keep these business models afloat in the long-term. I suspect it’s going to be a lot harder building and maintaining a team of online freelance English teachers when those teachers are not Chinese or physically in China.


25

Apr 2018

Popular (blocky and backwards)

This ad (spotted in the Shanghai Metro) is interesting for a number of reasons:

Popular (blocky and backwards)

What caught my attention was the font. “Blocky” (sometimes pixely) fonts are quite common, but I’ve never seen one so “spaced out” like this before. Yet the word 流行 (“popular”) is clearly visible.

And I didn’t even realize it at first, but the word 流行 is also written backwards! This is not something I have seen before, and I’m not sure what the intended effect is. (Maybe if I were a fan I’d get it?)

Nice of the poster to include the pinyin for 流行 (liúxíng), though!

Chris Lee is the English name for Li Yuchun (李宇春), which some of the older “China watcher” crowd might remember for her rise to prominence on the popular “Super Girl” singing competition in 2005.


27

Mar 2018

City Nightlife Characterplay

While perhaps not the cleverest characterplay, I like this treatment of the character , which means “city” (as in 城市), or sometimes “wall” (as in 长城). The phrase 不夜城 (literally, “not night city”) is similar to “the city that never sleeps.”

Untitled

The text is:

龍之梦购物公园
新食代
不夜城
千人自助餐盛宴

Note: The way that “Cloud Nine Mall” (龍之梦) is written breaks the “golden rule” that I learned in Chinese 101: Either write entirely in simplified characters or write entirely in traditional characters. Never mix the two. The simplified dragon character is written using the traditional . “食代” is a pun on 时代.


13

Mar 2018

Not so clever use of “carry”

Saw this ad on the Shanghai Metro:

Untitled

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.


10

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:

两亿中国人用每日优鲜

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.



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