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  • From Xinjiang Riots to China’s Outbound Marketing

    Posted on July 10th, 2009 Michele Sun No comments

    After the 3 days riots in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, China clamped down on the Internet, in the hope of stemming the flow of information about ethnic unrest which left more than 150 people dead and more than thousand arrests — the deadliest unrest since the 1989 military crackdown on the Tiananmen pro-democracy demonstrations. And like other riots in the past, the Chinese government has blamed Sunday’s riots in Urumqi on exiled Muslim separatists.

    While the websites of the Urumqi city and Xinjiang regional governments were down, the US social network media like Twitter, Facebook had also been blocked soon after the explosion of violence. However, in a striking contrast to its handling of the unrest in Tibet last year, the Chinese government has provided a high degree of access to foreign reporters covering the ethnic riots in Xinjiang, laying on media tours, press conferences and facilities for correspondents to file stories.

    So why China lets foreign media in Xinjiang but controls local coverage?

    This is what I think from a marketing standpoint – Chinese government has learned the importance of packaging. China has too many conflicts internally – a country with the most population and money, but at the same times also the most despotical nation. As its right hand swinging forward, its left hand is busy covering up its wounds of democracy, human rights, Tibet issue and economic order…etc.

    2008 has been an year with many breaking news for China, starting from the storm in early spring, Tibet riots in March, Sichuan earthquake in May, Beijing Olympic in Aug, poisoned milk in Sep…etc. China no longer has the luxury of takeing 3 months to hide, deny or admit after major incidents, because its citizens are blogging and twitting about those. With each incident it increased the exposure of China and most of them are fairly negative, the attention received from western media irritated Chinese government.

    Most of us will agree that China is playing an important role in global economic now because of the size of its market demands and the buying power. Enterprises all over the world have set their goal to penetrate the Chinese market because that’s’ where you will make money. But owning that buying power doesn’t give China the calling power. In order to position itself as one of the world leaders, China recognized the need to repackage and market itself.  I noticed the Chinese government’s efforts to polish its image and initiate its outbound marketing at the beginning of this year.

    Couple examples, China has started broadcasting news around the world in English – English news but with Chinese angle. The annual Chinese New Year Special TV Program was broadcasted in Chinese plus English, French and Spanish. This was the first time Chinese government reached out to the world with entertainment program instead of propaganda in multiple languages. From the size of the Olympic game open ceremony, larger than venti, we know budget, resource and talents really are not China’s concern when it comes to wooing the world.

    From a business standpoint, when a company allocate and spend heavily in marketing, its products should live up to its claim, yet better over deliver it’s promising. If its products failed or sucked, the backfire is going to do some serious damage. Julia Robert can be a spokesperson for an airline company, then pray the plane never crash, otherwise Julia is not going to save your business if you don’t follow through with your safety and maintenance procedures.

    I often feel that advertising in outbound marketing is a waste, and frankly very often are done to please the upper management – the pacifier I would call it. But if the product is not good enough, not remarkable enough, advertising is not going to produce magic result. We can launch an outbound tourism marketing campaign for North Korea next week, but how effective the advertising campaign is going to be with its threatening neuclear bombs ?

    To me the best marketing suggestion I want to give to China is to be true and forward, show the world without heavy makeup and concealer; your citizen are going to beat you anyway and you no longer can hide or cover the way you used to be. The more the government tries to cover-up the more people will want to dig-up the truth. The more you block the information the more people will spread it. Faking a firework show or staging a little girl’s singing only leads people to wonder what else are unreal. Blaming the unrest on separatist groups abroad only level up the status and influence of Muslim Uighur minority who want to create an independent homeland for themselves. Xinjinag is not Tibet and there is no Dalai Lama, but things might change if China doesn’t solve the foundamental issues and  losen the grip.

    If Chinese government can be more tolerant and open-minded toward issues like religion, Tibet and Taiwan, or show the world that China is serious about and has plan in place to protect intellectual property, I am sure the return of investment will be far bigger than any advertisement that money can buy.

    Here is a presentation I woudl like to share with you – “How social media can make history” by Clay Shirky


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