Selling China to the World

Spot by DDB Guoan Shows Collaboration Between Chinese Manufacturers and Global Marketers

By Published on .

BEIJING ( -- After a series of public relations disasters over the past few years, including last year's melamine scandal, tainted pet food and toothpaste, and the tarnished Olympic torch relay, China's government is fighting back.
A coalition of state-owned groups is airing a TV spot on CNN International to help improve the image foreigners have of China.

The government wants to erase the view held by some outsiders that China is nothing more than the world's factory, a country with no tolerance for intellectual property rights and no commitment to safety and quality.

The "Made in China, Made with the World" spot, created by Beijing-based DDB Guoan, shows a series of products manufactured in China, including household appliances, mp3 players and aircraft parts, with designs, engineering assistance and technology from multinational partners. Individuals and families interact with the products, each of which bears a label that reinforces the collaboration.

"To our knowledge, it is the first campaign developed for China," said Karen See, a DDB spokeswoman in Hong Kong.

"The spot was created to reinforce the country's role in the development of products, in partnership [with and] collaborating with other nations and best-in-class brands," she added.

The spot was commissioned by the China Advertising Association Of Commerce, the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products, the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Light Industrial Products and Arts-Crafts and the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Textiles, in partnership with China's Ministry of Commerce.

DDB Guoan, a joint venture between Omnicom-owned DDB Group and one of China's largest state-owned companies, Citic Group, was appointed in September 2008, following a five-way pitch.

Other contenders were believed to include two multinational networks, Publicis Worldwide and DraftFfcb as well as two local agencies, Guangdong Advertising Co. and DSCD Advertising Co. in Beijing.

The Made in China campaign was originally scheduled to launch late last year. Those plans were scrapped when China was hit by a major melamine-tainted milk scandal last fall.

By government estimates, at least six children died and more than 300,000 became ill by drinking dairy products tainted with melamine. The chemical additive was put in by middlemen to make the dairy products appear to meet nutritional standards.

The outbreak involved nearly two dozen dairy companies and the additive turned up in everything from infant milk formula to Lipton milk tea to Cadbury's chocolate bars.

When DDB Guoan was hired last year, the agency expected ads to run in global print and TV media. Even though the dairy scandal left China in even greater need of an image overhaul, those plans appear to have been scaled back.

The single spot is only running on CNN and there is "no indication on whether this will grow into a bigger campaign," Ms. See said.

The next step may also depend on the response to the first spot, which has been cool both in China and overseas.

"I'm glad [the government] is proactively trying to address China's image through advertising and I think it's good that it embraces Chinese culture by focusing on humility and harmony. They didn't a pompous approach," said Hong Kong-based Viveca Chan, chairman & CEO of WE Marketing Group, an independent agency in Greater China.

"But the scope could be a little bit broader, and the timing is out of sync. The 'made in China' story happened a few years ago. Now people are talking about how China is creating its own brands and its own technology. Today, the story is about China looking to collaborate with the West in terms of innovation, more than importing technology created by companies in other countries."

The spot is "off message," said Greg Paull, a partner at Beijing-based marketing consultancy R3. During a visit to the U.S. this week, Mr. Paull said U.S. viewers who watched the ad in his presence responded with "confused looks."

Working with one government agency in China is often difficult, and DDB insiders say that negotiating with five state agencies was exceptionally challenging. At the very least, the spot demonstrates China's commitment to improving its public image.

In January 2009, for example, China's government committed $6.6 billion to expand the international presence of state-controlled media companies such as national broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV); official state-run news agency Xinhua; People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party; and the Shanghai Media Group.

The money is being used to hire hundreds of Chinese reporters, publish and broadcast content in more languages, open news bureaus around the world, acquire overseas media assets and launch special projects -- all to improve China's global image through so-called "soft power."

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