Our apartment building’s elevator, like so many in China, is equipped with a small TV to play ads for passengers. Captive audience done right, yo. So, every day for about 30 seconds per ride, we get to have short glimpses into the minds of Chinese consumers. Or at least the minds of Chinese advertisers.
Here’s what was playing recently, and what it tells me about China today.
Whitening Cream ft. Pretty White Woman
The gist: Clarins facial cream will make your skin as white as a white woman’s! Sure it will.
The insight: This tells me that women in China are still yearning to have the whitest skin possible, particularly on their face. Not much has changed about that desire in the past 5,000 years. It seems awfully unfair to make the goal something that is not genetically or naturally obtainable, i.e. the skin tone of a fair Caucasian woman, but since when do companies fight fair?
Shampoo ft. Famous Pretty White Woman
The insight: There are plenty of Chinese celebrities who have beautiful long hair, so why use a foreigner? My guess is Lux is trying for international star power, and the fact that Scarlett’s hair in the commercial is not jet-black is an exotic bonus. There are plenty of women here who want something other than raven locks to help them stick out from the crowd. That quest often results in something closer to “navel orange” than “beautiful brunette,” but since when do women always make wise choices in the name of beauty?
Diapers ft. White Woman and White Baby Biscuits
The gist: Pampers keeps your baby’s rear end as happy as white babies’ rear ends! Sure they do.
The insight: It was Truman Show-level creepy how many times people admired my daughter when she was a baby and uttered the exact same sentence: “She’s just like a yang wa wa, a foreign doll!” It was like the entire province had been handed the same script to read off when they saw her. I’ve also been told over and over and over and over that white children are the most beautiful children on the planet. This commercial underscores the apparent national enamoredness. Why use boring Chinese kids when you can use the world’s cutest? Sigh. It’s weird and uncomfortable to be in a country that reveres white skin and high nose bridges, but since when is the world level-headed when it comes to race?
Anyone else tired of white people in Chinese commercials? Too bad, there’s one more, but in this one, he’s the bad guy.
Driver Service ft. White Guy
The gist: You can hire a driver who will NOT drag race with a white Vin Diesel look-alike. What a relief!
The insight: This company does not appear to be trying for Uber. More like Japanese chauffeur, complete with the white gloves. But, really, my takeaway from this commercial is just how stinkin’ popular the Fast & Furious franchise is in China. Uber-popular, in fact. (Hardy har har.) They use a guy who looks roughly like Vin Diesel (think shaved head and muscles), and immediately, the Chinese audience knows this guy is going to try to drag race at the light. The chauffeur, however, is way too safe to engage in such reckless driving, and the passenger is relieved. Sadly for them, though, it means they will not be starring in eight movies about reckless driving.
Used Car Website
The insight: Not that long ago, it was incredible to see ads in China for cars, period. Private car ownership is a relatively new thing here, but people are taking to it like ducks to Audis, especially as they get more and more M-O-N-E-Y. This has led to there being a market for used cars, and now, used car websites that are advertising consumer-to-consumer sales. Let’s review, class: 1) not just cars, but used cars, and 2) online sales of cars between private individuals. Whoa. This is not your grandfather’s China.
The insight: There’s a lot of hullabaloo about how many Chinese tourists are now flooding the world, thanks in part to an incredible increase in M-O-N-E-Y in the country. I won’t go into whether or not there should be a naughty list for rude tourists. What I’ll say is that this ad tells me that as more Chinese citizens go on vacations abroad, they are waking up to the fact that their trip does not need to be a non-stop, frenzied cattle drive through as many cities in as short a time as possible, rushing to keep up with the bullhorn-wielding tour guide without losing your matching hat. In fact, they’re discovering you can actually relax and enjoy yourself on a vacation overseas. If this keeps up, there will soon be something like Lonely Planet guide books or websites for Chinese folks who want to plan the trip themselves. Gasp!
Wristwatch-Style Cell Phone for Kids
The lesson: Is this even a thing outside of China? Watch phones for kids that only call a limited number of people like your Mommy and Daddy. These watches start at about US$100 just for the device, which once again spells M-O-N-E-Y. We’re talking about a country where most people make less than US$10,000 per year, folks. However, the rich are getting richer, and they’re buying iPhones for their fourth graders. I guess it simply follows that the preschool crowd would start out with a watch phone.
So, in case you didn’t have time to read all that, here’s the executive summary: white people; money.
It will be very interesting to see how advertising changes as Chinese consumers and the economy changes. For now, 电梯下楼, 门要关了!