2006 Student-Faculty Fellows: Marietta College
Investigating the Building Blocks of Advertising in Contemporary China
Mentor: Luding Tong, Modern Languages
Students: Jamie Gougarty, ’07; Timothy Kemble, ’08; Lauren Stermer, ’06; William Sullivan IV, ’07
The Marietta College’s team research project is a cross-disciplinary examination of the advertising industry in contemporary China, focusing on three important areas: 1) changes in the Party’s leadership in the areas of capitalism and consumerism, 2) government law and policies on advertising and their implementation, and 3) the interplay of Chinese cultural and philosophic tradition with Western influence, as reflected in contemporary Chinese advertising. Questions the team investigated in China this past summer include:
1) How can we understand the Chinese advertising industry, its cultural and political implications?
2) How can one launch a successful advertising campaign in China?
3) What is the future of Chinese advertising?
4) What are the functions of the government and advertising agencies in contemporary Chinese advertising?
In the past year, while leading the research project on contemporary Chinese advertising, I have been educating myself on this subject. Chinese advertising has expanded the horizon for my primary research interest in gender, language, and society in contemporary China. My own professional development benefited tremendously from the 23-day on-site research, not just from the extremely rich data and materials collected, but also from the collective wisdom and strength shown by the students on the team. The cross-disciplinary approach to contemporary Chinese advertising has added a new dimension to my earlier studies on this subject. Furthermore, the findings will be invaluable for my up-coming sabbatical research, which will focus on “de-coding” social, cultural, and political implications in Chinese advertisements since 1979. One of my sabbatical outcomes is a proposed new cross-disciplinary course: “Chinese Visual Culture and Visual Expressions through Advertisements.”
Unlike many other college students of my age, I had the opportunity (when in high school) to volunteer at the Children’s Hospital in Pudong (east side of Shanghai) on Saturday mornings. I took taxis daily, and interacted with the locals. All these experiences provided me with the opportunity to understand and get involved with the Shanghai people and their daily lives. My American friends and close peers saw me as an expert on understanding Chinese lifestyle. However, not until I studied the psyche of the Chinese consumers while conducting research in China this past summer, had I realized how much more there is for me to learn about the Chinese way of thinking, buying behavior, and their attitudes. I recognize now that I cannot impose my thinking, beliefs, or my desires on Chinese consumers in order to sell them different goods and services. To be successful in a Chinese market, one must develop consumer affinity and stand in the Chinese person’s shoes (in order) to fully understand the Chinese persons’ values, their attitudes, their prejudices, and their biases.
While I have been lucky enough to visit China before on a study tour, I found it far more informative to visit as a student researcher. The personal interviews and experiences I had in China this past summer were far more instructive and useful to me than any class. I can say that this trip was an incredible learning opportunity for me. Even though I had done some research on our research topic of contemporary Chinese advertising, and taken classes in Chinese culture, film and literature, the ability to see firsthand the political and economic effects of advertising on contemporary China was absolutely incredible. I found I learned a great deal about the Chinese government and its operation, as well as its interactions with business and daily life in contemporary China. The adaptability of both the government and businesses in China surprised and impressed me, and I now have a better understanding of why China is growing so fast, and where that growth could potentially lead.
Examining a subject from the outside looking in can simply not compare to studying the same subject from within. Before traveling throughout China, I thought I had an idea of what my research findings might be. It’s been truly amazing to see firsthand just how complex contemporary advertising in China really is. I originally set out to examine government control over advertising content in contemporary Chinese advertising. I ended up exploring the variations in advertising law enforcement throughout China. Through in-depth interviews and observation, we found that nothing in China is really done the same way, consistently, from place to place and that it will take time for Chinese society to adapt to a law-based system.
Through the study of advertising in contemporary China this past summer, my education has been taken to a different level. I truly believe I am more prepared for the work that lies ahead of me in graduate school as well as (for) my final semester of undergraduate work at Marietta College. I experienced, firsthand, the complexity of the Chinese government operation, its policy making and implementation, as well as the diverse leadership styles by different organizations and in different places…The investigation and study of contemporary Chinese advertising was enlightening both in a scholarly way and in personal growth. Spending three weeks in China exposed me to many things I had not learned in school. It also gave me a personal education unwritten in any text. During the three weeks, I observed many different types of business practices and witnessed how these different styles affected a person, a group, and the business community as a whole.