I’ve lectured a fair bit on the growth of the advertising markets in the so-called BRIC economies. One thing I’m always keen to impress on students is that there are potential brakes on development in the emerging giants, despite the massive investment major advertising groups have made in recent years.
Some of the obstacles are structural – the shockingly low literacy rate in India, for instance, particularly among women – while others are political and cultural. From January 2012, the Chinese have announced that they will ban ads during TV and film dramas which are longer than 45 minutes. In a television ad market which GroupM estimates to be worth over Rmb200 billion (more than $31 billion), such decisions are going to hurt financially. They will also strike a blow to creatives looking to compete on an even playing field with their counterparts in Paris, New York and London.
What justification is given for the ban? According to FT reporter Kathrin Hill, it’s all about the Communist Party trying to ‘assert control over the country’s increasingly commercial media industry’. In other words, this is one of the most explosively productive capitalist economies in the modern world, but it’s still notionally run by people who condemn the whole capitalist ethos.
Advertisers love the central planning and infrastructural investment which the Chinese government champions. Outdoor media giant JC Decaux, for example, has benefited hugely from the expansion of the Shanghai metro and the associated increase in middle-class passengers. But, to steal from Lenin, there’s always a danger that it’s one step forward, two steps back in a country which may not have a clear consensus about its ultimate destiny. Authorities in Beijing have been trying, over the past year, to control ambient advertising – particularly for luxury goods which stimulates demand among an audience as yet unable to afford them.
There are certainly huge opportunities ahead, but advertisers need to be prepared for setbacks too. After all, we live in interesting times.