Category Archives: China

Spain’s slant on Olympic diversity

Spain’s Olympic basketball team says it intended no offense with this ad celebrating its trip to China … with the team all making slanty-eyes.

The offense is so obvious we cringe, and we’re sure the courier company that paid for this full-page ad is glowing in the PR today. But this also offers a caution to other marketers not paying attention to how different audiences may interpret your message. Are you missing something that, by not thinking, creates a foul impression?

English as your second language

The boy said, I want to kiss you here. The girl stepped back and said, no way — so many people here. The boy said, just a light one on the nose. She did. He pressed her cheek, and said “thank you.”

A sweet love scene recorded in China by Ernop. In Chinese? Or English?

Wired magazine notes that English is fast becoming a foreign language. By 2020, only 15 percent of English speakers in the world will live in countries such as England, Australia or the United States where it is a native tongue — the other 1.7 billion people will be Chinese, Japanese, Romanians, and hundreds of other nationalities who are learning, and shifting, English as the worldwide language of business.

Wired notes that this global usage is creating dramatic shifts in English grammar. In China, adding “did” or “do” to questions is being dropped. The sound of vowels is changing, and subjects are disappearing. It’s a fascinating combination of how language has always evolved, and how the removal of geographic barriers means your own tongue today may be owned by others on the other side of the world tomorrow. “Soon,” Michael Erard writes, “when Americans travel abroad, one of the languages they’ll have to learn may be their own.”

Adidas to China: It takes a team

Most U.S. sports advertisements focus on individual success — one guy beating another running, one female tennis pro looking like a fashion model, one Tiger Woods being the Tiger. In America, we all want to be the one.

This Adidas ad in China shows the difference between U.S. and Eastern cultures. Notice the long windup, heavy on adversity and potential failure and group pressure, before the payoff in which a leaping crowd makes winning possible.

Neither approach is wrong or right. Just fascinating how different cultures view the basic idea of sports success.

Twitter’s emergency response

Blogger Robert Scoble beat the international news wires in reporting the horrendous earthquake in China Monday, because he began receiving Twitter feeds as it was happening. This is fitting, as AFP notes that the original inspiration for Twitter was inventor Jack Dorsey thinking about emergency dispatch systems.

So much on Twitter is trite. Some of our own recent posts have all the intelligence of bad bumper stickers. But sometimes, in periods of emergencies or news or simply chatter about Hillary Clinton primary victory speeches, the ambiance of humanity talking immediately about events in play gives news a new meaning.

Olympic torch riots: A lesson for marketers

Call it a case study in viral communications. The Olympic torch sparked riots in Paris yesterday. Protesters furious with China human rights abuses stormed barricades and snuffed out the torch, forcing police to retreat with the smoldering symbol of human brotherhood … to the inside of a bus.

Not to belittle this controversy, but the Olympic torch — carried on a predictable path surrounded by political controversy — is a recipe for mass hysteria. It has the same ingredients as any human fad, whether that be Razor Scooters, iPhones or Facebook. Marketers who want to understand how fads start can learn from mob behavior.

Sociologists David Haddock and Daniel Polsby list four requirements for mass action:

1. Get a crowd. Mass behavior first requires a mass. Now, crowds alone do not spark riots — people cluster together every Fourth of July without harming each other. But a big group of people is the starting point.

2. Get some clones. The crowd must attract like-minded people, say, those who want to take action and who believe others do, too. If you think of any mass tipping point, it begins with similar users — musicians on MySpace, college students on Facebook, technology buffs with the iPhone. Protesters who care about the Chinese human rights issues share a powerful, political longing too.

3. Find the nodes. The crowd must then coalesce around “action nodes.” Riots or fads don’t start everywhere at once — there are certain points in the crowd that become trigger hotbeds.

Haddock and Polsby note that “action nodes” are like little magnets, attracting people most likely to start the fight or fad. For example, at street scenes, police and television reporters often cluster around spots where violence is most likely to erupt — so if you are interested in violence, you walk to where the police and reporters are. In marketing, “cool hunters” such as sneaker-clad bloggers we know report on the latest trends — so if you want to be on the edge, you read them every day.

In the absence of visual cues, people can often guess where the hotspot is. Consider one study where people were asked how they would meet a friend in New York City on a given day without any idea of where the friend would look for them. A common answer was: go to Grand Central Station, information booth, high noon. Because my friend would probably guess that, too.

A little intuition and you’re drawn to the epicenter.

4. Launch signal. And finally, a signal event is required. This is also known as a Schelling incident, after game-theory author Thomas Schelling, which tells you not what you should do but instead what other people are about to do. No one wants to be the first out of the gate (or the first to be arrested). But if you see others are about to charge in, you dive in, too.

Signal events may happen naturally because in any random order of events, patterns emerge. Flip a quarter 50 times, you’ll get three or four heads in a row. This is why your iPod repeats songs while it’s on shuffle. If you put enough angry people together, eventually a few will bump into police at about the same time, and that “pattern” triggers others on the edge to jump in.

(This vary randomness is frustrating for anyone, such as marketers, trying to launch a viral campaign because it really can’t be controlled. Facebook’s fame and fortune started with some tipping point at a college — but it just as easily could have been another social network that took off when a few frat guys all said at once, “man this is cool.”)

And that’s the lesson for marketers. You need a crowd, clones, nodes and a signal. The reason most marketers can’t launch viral campaigns easily is because they really only control 1 of the 4 ingredients, the signal. Without the crowd in the proper position, chasing the opportunity, the fad won’t fly.