Driving around Eastern Beijing these days, one can’t help but notice the never ending series of billboards encouraging everyone to ‘develop and enjoy together’, be ‘magnificent with me’ and celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. This is a recent campaign by the Chaoyang District Government aimed at ensuring all citizens are ‘on the same page’ when it comes to behavior and the development of a harmonious society. Chaoyang district lies on the east side of Beijing and encompasses the CDB, top luxury malls, five star hotels and home to a large percent of the affluent Chinese living in the Capital.
Outdoor advertising in Beijing has always been heavily restricted by the district, city and national governments. Even when it comes to Beijing’s luxury store facades no less than three different government bureaus scrutinize store designs prior to construction and conduct daily inspections of shopping malls to ensure compliance.
One assumes the recent ‘Civilized Chaoyang’ and ‘90th Anniversary’ campaigns are aimed at making Chinese happy with the current development of the economy and encourage trust in the government that keeps the peoples’ interests at heart. It’s interesting if not a little humorous that the propaganda campaigns have been placed along side other billboards that promote imperialism and bourgeoisie inspired consumption.
Recently luxury advertising in Shanghai has also been under tighter scrutiny with Louis Vuitton agreeing to alter their massive suitcase billboard that covered renovations under way in their Plaza 66 (China’s most successful luxury mall) store. Apparently, local residents complained that the billboard took up too much public space and hindered pedestrians. Louis Vuitton responded very quickly to remove the offending suitcase themed billboard, although the renovation works seem to still take up exactly the same amount of sidewalk space. One wonders, if residents complaints were really at the heart of the matter and not competing brands or malls taking offense at the free advertising space.
I asked Timothee Semelin, airport advertising specialist and owner of the blog Lookoutchina about restrictions on luxury advertising in China.
Have the recent Chinese Government restrictions on advertising of luxury affected the way foreign luxury brands advertise in China?
Yes, they advertise even more!!! Actually the government restrictions were really aimed at some inappropriate wording used by some local brands or real-estate companies in China that promoted some kind of luxury or hedonistic spirit that the government doesn’t really like. The restrictions on wording don’t really apply to the established luxury brands from overseas that tend to use creative visuals and logos in their ads. The only limits on these brands concerns the sexiness of some visuals that may have a hard time to get approved by the censorship bureau but I guess this is not specific to China.
What is the biggest challenge luxury brands face when trying to do outdoor advertising in Beijing?
Only the transportation (subways/airports etc.) advertising is well developed, with the quality of outdoor media and advertising environments in Beijing still far behind what brands are used to in Shanghai or many second tier cities. Therefore, foreign luxury brands wanting to advertise in Beijing still have a lot of problems finding suitable locations that match their standards and the right target audience. It’s not really about the government restrictions to the luxury sector; it’s more the fact that Beijing city as the political center of China does not want to be polluted by too much outdoor advertising. However, it’s a contradiction because all around town you can still see cheap and ugly outdoor advertising done by Chinese media companies that obviously got permission through some special connections to do whatever they wanted.The best outdoor advertising locations you can find in Beijing right now are the renovated subway lines, Beijing Airport and some outdoor signage at the shopping malls.
Whatever the rationale, luxury brands will continue to have challenges with their outdoor advertising in Beijing. Yet, with luxury goods sales tending to be stronger in North China and all media in the country mandated to be based in Beijing, luxury brands are desperate to increase their exposure in the Capital. This is the prime reason why luxury brands are all seeking street side flagship stores in Beijing right now. Through the flagship store they are effectively buying a store facade to act as a billboard to promote the brand and then hope that this will tranlstate to sales either in Beijing or other second tier cities. Given the current advertising restrictions and lack of retail supply in prime street side locations it will be many years until Beijing luxury store facades are anywhere near as extravagant as Shanghai’s facades.