I’ve grown accustomed to interesting examples of Chinese capitalism (I often say the Chinese are more capitalist than us Americans), but I was presently surprised to see this (sorry it’s not the greatest photo):
So on Valentine’s Day, demand drives the price of roses up to something like 30 RMB per flower (give or take). Normally it’s around 10 RMB (which is already kind of high).
Well, this real estate developer decided to give away free roses on the evening of February 14th, right on the street near Zhongshan Park, with this heart-shaped advertisement attached. Quite clever!
I know for a fact that most people immediately removed the ad and kept the rose, but I do wonder if the tactic proved fruitful for them or not.
In case you’re wondering how one should understand the phrase “爱 ♥ 回家” grammatically, 爱 is a noun here, so it means “love returns home” rather than “[someone] loves to return home.” Ah, Chinese grammar and its flexible parts of speech…
Here’s a Chinese public service poster that uses a pun to get its point across:
The big text reads:
> 你是要换， [Do you want to replace it,]
> 还是要患？ [or do you want a (safety) hazard?]
So the key here is that “huàn” can be both the verb 换, meaning “to replace,” as well as the noun 患, which means “hazard” (in the “safety hazard” sense). You often see it in the word 隐患, literally “hidden danger,” referring to potential safety hazards. (隐患 actually appears at the very bottom of the notice.)
It’s almost National Day holiday in China. That means wacky vacation schedules (it’s not too bad this year, though) and tons of Chinese people traveling. Those of us that have tried traveling within China during the holiday tend not to repeat it too many times (or at least not to really popular tourist destinations).
This year my wife and I are going to make a trip out to Chengdu. Should be fun (as long as the crowds aren’t too overwhelming). We’re going to try time-shifting our holiday a bit (leaving early and coming back in the middle of the holiday) to offset the holiday rush. We’ll see if that works!
Recently I saw this advertisement, which I assume was timed to appeal to would-be National Day travelers:
The text reads:
> There is no starting line. There is no finish line. You set the route! Rent!
Of course, the first thing that went through my mind when I saw that ad was, “you’re never going to find a road like that in China.” It’s not that the “open road” doesn’t exist at all; they’re just way too remote for the average driver setting out for Shanghai, that’s for sure. A Chinese “road trip” tends to feel more like driving in the city than like the “open road.” I’ve been on a few road trips in China, and I can now appreciate why the road trip is a great American tradition and not a Chinese tradition.
Vancl (凡客) is a popular Chinese clothing brand that hires the likes of celebrity author/race car driver Han Han (韩寒) for its ads.
This ad featuring Li Yuchun (李宇春) is all over Shanghai right now:
On first glance, the Chinese in this ad is pretty simple, but doesn’t seem to make sense. 我爱你 means “I love you,” and 无所谓 means “don’t care.” Huh?
But look closer… It’s not 无所谓 in the ad, but 无所畏. The final character is different. So the meaning goes from “to not care” to “to have no fear.” The ad intentionally plays with you to draw you in; 无所畏 (“to have no fear”) is not a phrase you normally use in spoken language (although 无所畏 and 无畏 are not so hard to find online).
This ad featuring Han Han part of the same series:
Here you have the same 谓/畏 wordplay, this time introducing the phrase 正能量, a phrase popular among the kids which can’t be translated literally, and is used to mean something like “positive attitude.”
I’m wondering if this ad would be as likely to be used in northern China:
The text of the ad is:
The pinyin for the ad is:
> Zhāozū! Zhǎo zhǔ!
If you ignore both tones and the z/zh distinction (which a lot of southerners–especially elder southerners–do frequently), you get this:
> Zao zu! Zao zu!
The meaning of the ad is something like, “For rent! Seeking the right person!” (“主,” often meaning “host” or “owner” is a bit tricky to translate, because normally someone in a position to rent is not a “主,” but in this case that’s who it refers to: the appropriate party to do the renting.)
With the movie Transformers 3 now out, Transformers are popping up in Chinese media more too. The other day I snapped these pictures of an ad campaign involving 舒化 milk. (Sorry the photos are blurry… I have yet to figure out the best way to consistently get clear photos of back-lit subway ads with my cell phone.)
OK, kids like Transformers, kids drink milk. Still, badass robots drinking milk? It seems kinda off. (Stop messing with my childhood memories!)
I think this is going to be one of Shanghai’s shortest springs ever; we’re practically going straight from winter to summer. And advertisers know it; I saw this ad for skin whitening cream on the Metro the other day:
What struck me about this ad was not the amount of English, but rather the diversity of its usage in the ad:
1. Olay: a famous brand name, untranslated. (This is kind of a ballsy move in China, but some companies do it.)
2. White Radiance: the product’s English name. This is probably mostly for aesthetic effect and symmetry of design.
3. 小S: a name. Yes, her Chinese name is 小S. It might not be her real name, but it’s her name.
4. VS: a term used pretty often in Chinese, appreciated for its simplicity and compact nature. (In Chinese, you spell it out: V-S.)
5. PK: a Chinese verb (derived from “player kill”) popular among the young internet-savvy folk, referring to some type of elimination competition.
The less interesting part is the actual content of the ad. It’s trying to get people to go to a website and vote for the star they think is whiter. Ugh.
I noticed these ads recently in the subway. They’re sponsored by the Shanghai fire department. It makes sense to want to raise fire safety awareness in light of the recent tragic fire, but I don’t really get the whole “firewall” thing. Like in English, the Chinese term 防火墙 seems to be used primarily in the IT industry these days.
P.S. My dictionary says “firewall” is another word for “Chinese wall.” Hmmm.
Take a look at this Shanghai subway advertisement for plane tickets on Taobao. Pay attention to the main Chinese words in the ad.
If you’re anything like me (and a few of the Chinese people I asked), you tried to read the Chinese before paying attention the English “taxi,” but started feeling something was strange around the “飞的” part. What’s going on here?
Well, in Mandarin Chinese, the character 的 is most commonly used as a structural particle, connecting different parts of speech together or doing other structural things. In this capacity, it is pronounced “de.” However, the character 的 has a number of other readings as well.
Aside from its purely grammatical function, 的 also appears in the loanword for “taxi,” which is 的士 (díshì) in Mandarin, a secondhand borrowing from the Cantonese “dik1si2” (a loanword from English). In Mandarin Chinese 的 can also represent the meaning “taxi” by itself. When it does this, it’s pronounced “dī.” So you can say “take a taxi” using the phrase 打车 or 打的 (“dǎ dī” and not “dǎ de”).
Anyway, in this ad, the 飞的 part should be read “fēi dī” and not “fēi de,” because it stands for “flying taxi” rather than “one that flies.” That means the sentence is:
So while you might, at first glance, be tempted to read it as, “take something that flies to go traveling” (which is grammatical, albeit a bit awkward), the correct translation is, “take a flying taxi to go traveling.” This is indicated by the “TAXI” above the 的, which tells us the character means taxi (not structural info), and therefore should be pronounced “dī.”
The interesting parts:
1. This was so potentially confusing that a gloss had to be given to a Chinese audience
2. The gloss given was an English word, indicating not the reading of the character, but the meaning of the character
When you think of a gloss for Asian languages, you tend to think of something like this (taken from the Wikipedia page on ruby characters):
I think the ad above is the first time I’ve ever seen a semantic gloss in a foreign language, intended for native speakers of the glossed language. Pretty cool! (I’m not sure it’s effective advertising, though…)
It’s not uncommon for one advertiser to buy up tons of ads in one subway station, but usually when they do that, they have two or maybe three different ads. Coca-Cola went crazy at Jing’an Temple. I think maybe they’re trying to hint at some kind of relationship between Coke, famous Chinese athletes, and some sort of sporting event, perhaps in 2008? These ads are very subtle.
On my way home from work yesterday I saw this ad on the subway:
At first I was really confused by the composition of the ad, but in fact someone had slipped their own (quite professional-looking) ad behind the plastic ad display cover. (They chose an oral contraceptive ad.)
> Missing Person Notice
Lu Jinhua: Female, 24 years old, 1.60 meters tall,
from Zhoukou, Henan. On May 12th, 2007
at about 7:00 pm she left home and has not returned since. Her family
is extremely worried and concerned. If anyone knows her whereabouts,
please contact Gao Jiabao at 13764498186. A reward will be given
on the spot!!! If Jinhua herself sees this advertisement,
please get in touch right away!!!
I was impressed by the sly way they got hundreds of people to view the ad on the subway (although the ad probably won’t last until tomorrow morning). And they got their ad on the internet, through me.
This whole thing has me curious, because the ad seems so professionally done. And maybe Jinhua doesn’t want to be found. Seems like there’s a story there.
In early 2007 English First (an English training school) was running this ad in Shanghai:
What kind of message is that sending?
Apparently they later decided that they needed to make sure that the foreign teacher in the ad was more mature (and perhaps had better eyesight), and that the teachers they pimped provided equal bondage opportunities for both sexes. These are the ads they’re running now:
Conclusion: English First is a company with a progressive attitude towards advertising, based on the firm principles of purple backgrounds and bondage.
On Thursday I noticed three kinds of Trojan condom ads in the subway car I was riding*, and I’d never seen Trojan ads on the subway before. Trojan is getting into the market a bit late; the dominant foreign company is Durex.
What interested me was the content of the ads. One of them was a long horizontal ad which read 不只是神话…… (“it’s not just a myth”). Another was a rectangular ad which briefly recounted in both Chinese and English the Trojan War story, focusing on Helen’s role as the motivation for the war. The last was on the subway door, and it was a 9-by-9 grid of the Trojan condom logo in various colors. None of the ads contained anything about condoms or safe sex, with the exception of the inclusion of the Trojan China website: trojancondoms.cn (which only clues you in if you know English).
[I don’t think I misremembered it, but that URL gives me “Bad Request (Invalid Hostname),” and none of my searches (Google, Baidu) turned up a Trojan condoms Chinese website. “Trojan Condoms” is 特洛伊安全套 or 特洛伊避孕套, depending on which word for “condom” you like. Most of my searches did turn up this video on Chinese YouTube clones, which is pretty funny, but NSFW and not for kids.]
I know the Trojan subway ads could be a marketing tactic, but it doesn’t seem at all compelling. I doubt the typical Chinese commuter knows what Trojan makes, or will connect any of the ads with condoms, and they’re not interesting enough to get people asking what they’re for. So… What’s the point? I really wonder if Trojan knows what it’s doing in China.
What is the message in this ad for Shanghai’s chic dining/shopping area, Xintiandi (新天地)?
I’m almost certainly reading too much into it, but this is what I see:
– To the Chinese women: “Hey, pretty, young, fashionable Shanghainese women! Come to Xintiandi, the place to be seen. Not only will men ogle you, but lots of handsome, singleforeign men will ogle you! If you’re crazy enough not to want that, there are also Chinese men, most of whom are rich!”
– To the foreigners: “Hey, handsome male foreigners! We know you’re looking for Zhang Ziyi-esque women, and Xintiandi has them in droves. Don’t worry, the submissive local males will let you have them (as if you were worried!), and the women all want you, anyway.”
– To the Chinese men: “Hey, rich Chinese men! Come to Xintiandi, where you can flaunt your money with pretty young women and foreigners. Oh, but remember that it’s only polite to offer the ladies to the foreigners first.”
What has Xintiandi got against Chinese men? There may be tons of foreigners in Xintiandi, but I’m pretty sure the Chinese men are still the ones spending the big bucks. So for this reason the ad doesn’t make a lot of sense.
What have I got against Xintiandi? Nothing, really. I don’t particularly like it, but I don’t have any deep philosophical reasons for that. I’m mostly just cheap. In the past year I’ve started going there fairly often after work at ChinesePod for happy hour at Kabb. 20 RMB for Tiger draught is not bad.