Amidst the recalls for toxic toys and tainted dog food — including a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation into its allegedly harmful drywall — China is employing the help of a Manhattan ad agency to help clean up its image, according to a recent New York Times piece.
Beijing’s first global ad campaign comes in the form of a television commercial, which is currently airing on CNN in the U.S., Asia and Europe.
According to the article, the commercial features Western actors “set against a soft-rock melody and shows the ubiquitous 'Made in China label' on a series of products — with a twist. A jogger laces up running shoes whose tag reads 'Made in China with American sports technology.' A refrigerator is stamped with 'Made in China with European styling.' Two teenage girls dance at a bus stop listening to MP3 players labeled 'Made in China with software from Silicon Valley.' And a model vamps for the camera in a slinky dress that's 'Made in China with French designers'."
The idea that the ad is trying to get across is this: “Made in China” actually means made in China with the world’s help, so there’s no reason to believe that China’s products are inferior to products made in other countries.
"When you talk about products in China, you think of lesser quality than the U.S. and Europe," said Li Fei, a professor of marketing at Beijing's Tsinghua University. "By connecting them internationally, you're saying they're equal."
The commercial, which was funded by a group of Chinese trade associations and China's Ministry of Commerce, was created by DDB, one of the largest multinational ad firms, to promote Chinese goods “objectively.”
Though DDB and Chinese officials wouldn’t discuss the commercial, experts say the campaign is designed to loosen up the trade tension that's currently going on between China and its Western trading partners.
Last month, the European Union asked the World Trade Organization to look at China’s export restrictions on key raw materials, which it claims raises the prices for foreign buyers, giving Chinese firms a low-cost advantage.
In addition, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is taking a hard look at Chinese-made all-terrain vehicles, which critics claim have faulty brakes and sharp handlebars that could injure young riders. Since last summer, about 800 vehicles have been recalled.
But despite the high-profile ad campaign, some are skeptical that the commercial will have much effect.
"Most people would be pretty cynical about" the campaign, said Paul Midler, author of Poorly Made in China. "I'm not sure using PR can turn the tide and change behavior."
Others feel the money would be better spent cleaning up China’s manufacturing operations, rather than its image.