Marketers treading carefully amid China quake

Fri May 30, 2008 9:02am EDT
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By Jonathan Landreth

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - It has only gone from bad to worse in China this spring.

Protesters from London to Paris to San Francisco dogged the Coca-Cola-sponsored Olympic torch relay to shout down China's rule of Tibet. Mia Farrow lambasted China's trade with Sudan, and Steven Spielberg quit his advisory role to the Olympic Games' opening ceremony in Beijing on August 8.

Shortly after that, African marathoners griped about pollution in Beijing and a train on the route to the Olympic sailing venue in Tianjin flew off the tracks, killing 71 people.

But they all paled against the calamity that was to come May 12, when an earthquake struck China's Sichuan province, killing more than 68,500 people to date.

The tragedy has presented a unique challenge to advertisers in the region. Marketing messages are requiring adjustments in tone at a time when brands should be plotting a very different strategy.

Advertising and entertainment content was yanked for three days of mourning beginning May 19. The torch relay -- which by then had summited Mount Everest -- came to a halt.

Chinese Web sites such as TuDou and YouKu dropped most non-quake footage. Karaoke parlors and online gaming halls went quiet; cinemas went dark.

All corporate brands faded from the airwaves in unison with Chinese companies. Procter & Gamble pulled its "Keep China Smiling" campaign for Crest toothpaste, and Coke scaled back all its marketing activities.   Continued...

<p>Shoppers walk past an advertisement showing China's Olympic swimming hopeful Wu Peng at a shopping district in Beijing February 17, 2008. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV</p>