Foreign Advertising in China: Become Global, Becoming Local

By Li, Hairong | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

Foreign Advertising in China: Become Global, Becoming Local


Li, Hairong, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Foreign Advertising in China: Become Global, Becoming Local. Jiang Wang. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 2000. 176 pp. $52.95 hbk.

While debates continue on whether international advertising should be globalized or localized, Jiang Wang, author of Foreign Advertising in China, offers evidence that the "glocalization" is what characterizes foreign advertising in China. Wang states, "The concept of glocalization represents the interlocking duality of globalization and localization in cultural change and formation. It is a dialectic process between universalism and particularism, and homogenization and heterogenization... It is impossible to use a blanket statement of 'globalization' or 'localization' to describe foreign advertising development in China. The case, however, does suggest a coexistence of both the globalization and localization tendencies." This central theme is perceptible throughout the book.

It is no coincidence that both foreign advertising and shipments of foreign goods first reached China's shores after the SinoBritish Opium War in the mid-nineteenth century. As the author describes, business needs led to the early establishment of foreign advertising agencies. Among the Big Four ad agencies in China's advertising capital of Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s, two were foreign and the other two had founders who had been educated or had worked in the United States. These early foreign advertisers and ad agencies hired local Chinese graphic artists to design their advertisements. Wang writes, "At first BAT (British-American Tobacco Company) hired Westerners, but the German fairy-tales and the advertising slogans they used hardly made any sense to the local Chinese. BAT then decided to commission Chinese artists and writers, who drew from the wellspring of Chinese folklore and popular culture, and BAT's advertising became successfully adapted to the Chinese cultural setting." The glocalization is evidenced from the beginning of foreign advertising in China.

The author shares his personal observations of a multinational ad agency in Beijing in the late 1990s. With the agency's identity disguised, Wang describes in detail its corporate culture, structure, and daily operation. The agency enjoyed a unique culture, characterized by Western advertising professionalism and a constant lingual mix of Mandarin, Cantonese, and English, as well as the socialization between foreign and local employees. …

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