Friday, September 26, 2008

The Deflation of Exoticness Courtesy of the Ad Man

Lunched with a group of American investors and fund managers on their first trip to Shanghai this week who dropped in to ‘kick the tyres’, as they like to say. One very disappointed Connecticut analyst who’d come from Pudong Airport to the Grand Hyatt and then by mini-van to the Bund complained that all he’d seen in Shanghai so far were adverts for western brands – from Motorola to Coke and McDonalds to GE.

I consoled him with the thought that his grandfather would’ve probably experienced the same deflation of ‘exoticness’ upon arrival. The veteran inter-war New York Times China Correspondent Hallett Abend arrived in Shanghai in 1926 for the first time. As his ship sailed towards the Bund he excitedly gawped out of his porthole eager for a glimpse of the Orient and the fabled city of Shanghai. All he could see was a massive billboard for a famous brand of American chewing gum, which rather flattened his mood. He mused dejectedly that he might as well as have been sailing up the Hudson as the Huang Pu. Things got more exciting for Abend, but first glances were disappointing.

I don't know for sure but I suspect the man responsible for the ads that deflated Abend's exotic expectations was my old hero Carl Crow (providing an opportunity for a quick plug - Carl Crow, a Tough Old China Hand still available) so here's a recently unearthed picture of one of his Shanghai advertising billboards from the 1930s.

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