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Li, "Advertising and consumption in post-Mao China: Between the local and the global," 2006

USC dissertation in Marketing.
August 21, 2009

Hongmei Li, Ph.D

Abstract (Summary)

Advertising, as arguably the most dominant producer of consumer desires, has developed rapidly over the past two decades in China. Advertising not only reflects many of the desires of a given society, but also helps to shape social values, preferences, attitudes and even consumer behaviors. Chinese advertising in some sense embodies China's modernization project. Examining advertising in China provides insight into larger issues about China's transformation economically and socially and into the role of consumer society in shaping societies in general.

This dissertation examines the rise of advertising as a profession in China. The central question asked in this project is: How is the global produced locally and how is the local produced globally in Chinese advertising? Specifically, it explores the following questions: (1) What are the globalization strategies of Chinese advertising agencies? Are Chinese agencies following Eurocentric modernity or creating an alternative modernity? (2) What are the localization strategies of transnational advertising agencies in China? To what extent, do transnational agencies follow their global advertising practices or create hybridized advertising practices when they deal with their clients, Chinese media and Chinese regulatory agencies in China? (3) How do Chinese producers and their agencies brand Chinese products? What are the prevalent values sold in Chinese ads? How do Chinese ads sell nationalism and transnationalism? (4) How do foreign producers and their agencies brand foreign products? How do they balance their foreignness and Chinese values? What challenges have they encountered when they appropriate Chinese culture?

Through extensive interviews, analysis of advertising campaigns, and examination of other secondary data, I argue that the local and the global have increasingly converged with each other. Chinese advertising agencies have demonstrated a fervent desire to follow foreign advertising procedures and practices and simultaneously create things that are uniquely Chinese. Transnational agencies, on the other hand, have demonstrated both cultural hegemony and cultural intermingling through localization and the promotion of professionalism, scientific management, rationality, and systematic advertising practices. In terms of branding strategies, foreign producers have sold the notion of universal truth with a Chinese style and have also attempted to balance their foreignness and local connections in the Chinese market. Chinese producers have often moved between selling nationalism and transnationalism. Indeed, nationalism has become a symbolic tool for Chinese nationalists to fight against globalizing influence in China.

Advisor: Sturken, Marita