Advertising in China

Aside from the 2012 Summer Olympics I don’t watch local television in China. So Chinese advertisers have lost a key opportunity to get me to buy things. To compensate they have come up with some rather interesting ways to get my attention during the day. Aside from the numerous obnoxiously lit billboards and bus signs…

The electronics market of Beijing.

The electronics market of Beijing.

Random people will hand you things all the time. Sometimes I’m lucky and they don’t offer me anything realizing that as a foreigner I likely won’t understand whatever flyer or promotion they are hawking. Today on my way home from work I was handed several things by bored/exasperated looking people in their twenties. I’m sure they all regretted having drawn the short stick that day.


Flier for a restaurant? Clothing store? Gum? Electronics? Water? Peanut butter-covered cockroaches? Plastic surgery? Who knows.

Some of the promotional items are self-explanatory. The smiley face card holders are for a restaurant of some kind, I’m sure. Something  called Open Rice helpfully written in English. The blue thing is a complete mystery. Could be for soap, a restaurant, a clothing store, a movie ticket…camel’s eyes…who knows.

People glue fliers up all over the city on traffic lights, lamp posts, even cars that have been sitting too long. People also paint phone numbers directly onto the pavement and the sidewalks. I think they’re mostly ads for water delivery services, plumbers, maintenance men, or whatever.


Ad wedged in my door.
Note the stamp for building maintenance to the left of the door handle.

A typical restaurant flyer, sad in it's lack of color though.

A typical restaurant flyer taped to the front door of my apartment. Unusual lack of color, however.

Another advertising gimmick is to tape things to the doors of apartments, or wedge things directly in the door frame.

Usually at home they’re just restaurant fliers, but if you’re lucky they’re cards for prostitutes. Featuring suggestive photos of young Asian women in awkward poses and a phone number to call for a delivery, the cards flutter into view when the door is opened. I’ve never seen anyone deliver the cards, but I have heard them wedging them into the door frame. They don’t knock on the doors at all, just wedge and run. They’re not discriminating over which apartments they hit either. In my wing there are several families with young children, as well as several single women living alone, but the advertisers don’t discriminate. They figure someone, somewhere, sometime, will call. I shudder to think how often people do call. Isn’t that like calling a phone number you find scrawled on a bathroom stall door?

For a good time call...

For a good time call…

How many times have you watched an ad on television and been surprised by what the actual product is when it is revealed? Not often, I’m guessing. In China I’m constantly surprised. The ads that run on all public transportation (buses, subways, and some taxis) are often baffling to me. What I think is an ad for shampoo turns out to be an ad for chewing gum, or KFC.

The Beijing advertising scene reminds me of a set from George Carlin who is the Ice Box Man in his home. Ice Box Man is responsible for clearing out the fridge and sometimes comes across a food he simply cannot identify. Just like finding that unknown item in the refrigerator (“Could be meat, could be cake.”); the ads in China could be for just about anything. Could be fabric softener, could be real estate.

Ads are stuck to every free standing structure. Lamp posts, crossing signs, trees even!

Fliers are stuck to every available free-standing structure. Lamp posts, crossing signs, trees even!

Ads are displayed in residential elevators. In addition to printed posters some elevators have an electronic device called a Framedia. They display ads on a continuous loop all day long.

Ads are displayed in residential elevators. In addition to printed posters some elevators have an electronic device called a Framedia. They display ads on a continuous loop all day long.

Categories: China, Life Abroad | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Advertising in China

  1. They’re still behind the likes of South Korea in terms of sophistication and cleverness, they’re lucky everyone seems to be buying everything in sight anyway.

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