Chinese students embrace lessons of Japanese advertising


Staff writer

A project involving communication professionals and students in Japan and China will focus on advertising and how effective it becomes in market expansion.

For China, which officially began its shift from a planned economy to a more market-oriented one in 1979, the demand for commercial advertisements — which serve to lubricate a market economy — have increased yearly.

To meet the demand, Chinese educators have established university courses to educate future advertising specialists. The advertising departments at these schools have become extremely competitive for enrollment.

Japanese ad giant Dentsu Inc. launched a five-year information project with Chinese universities in 1996 to commemorate the 95th anniversary of its founding.

The Japan-China Advertising Educational Exchange Project aims to introduce Dentsu’s business methods — which have made it the most profitable ad agency in Japan and fourth-most profitable in the world — to China’s future advertisers.

The project is being undertaken at Peking University, Renmin University of China, the Central Academy of Arts and Design, the Beijing Broadcasting Institute, Fudan University and Shanghai University.

Most of these prestigious institutions established advertising departments within the past few years.

The idea for the project came from Dentsu President Yutaka Narita, 70, who started his career at the agency in 1953.

Narita said the energy of the expanding market in China mimics the era of rapid economic growth that Japan experienced in the 1950s and 1960s.

“People working for the advertising industry in those days had a very hard time doing business because of a lack of information on what advertising was all about,” Narita said, recalling how amazed and shocked he was to see U.S advertising methods.

Narita said he had been concerned since his Chinese friend and a senior government official told him that, despite the transition to a market economy, China was still in need of better and more effective marketing and advertising methods.

“The history of cultural exchange between the two countries is very long, and we owe a lot to China,” he said. “I wanted to do something to help the Chinese economy develop. And I thought doing a practical course in universities and teaching what we do was a great idea.”

The exchange project consists of two programs: an intensive course on Japanese advertising business at the universities and inviting Chinese advertising department teachers to Japan for a six-month training session.

The intensive 10-day course at the universities, which provides credits for those enrolled, is taught by veteran agents at Dentsu.

The course is practical — from marketing strategies, roles and methods of sales promotion, to the significance of establishing corporate identity and planning and creating advertisements.

The selected senior staffers take turns visiting the universities to discuss and demonstrate how they operate.

Among nearly 300 Dentsu staffers chosen to visit the universities over the five-year period, about half have already lectured at the schools, according to the ad agency.

The teachers invited from the universities visit different divisions at the firm, third-party groups related to the media and advertising, and hold discussions with researchers and media-related officials during their stay.

“(Because of the transformation to a market economy), Chinese people’s sense of consumption has changed dramatically in recent years,” said Wang Tian Ping, a lecturer of commercial film at Shanghai University and a recent project participant.

“And so the need for commercial advertising in society has increased, and businesses and ad agencies really want to hire students who can immediately start making the most of their knowledge from their course.”

Upon graduation, most students pursue careers at advertising firms or in the media, attracted by high pay and abundant job openings.

However, Chu Guang Zhi of the Beijing Broadcasting Institute said the popularity of the field derives from the belief that studying advertising may help people enrich their education, as having to deal with advertising requires a broad knowledge. The global atmosphere of the industry is also an attraction.

According to Yu Zhenwei, vice professor of the journalism school at Fudan University, other than Dentsu, the world’s top 10 advertising agencies come from the U.S. and Europe and entered the Chinese market in the late 1980s.

“Chinese have been learning the methods, strategies, and the concept of commercial advertising from the West, because they came into the market together with the products,” Yu said. “But on the other hand, Japanese ad agencies and their ways of doing business came in late, although Japanese products were here much earlier.”

And so, questions arise endlessly from the students during the lectures given by Dentsu staffers.

“The students were very bright and enthusiastic, and the atmosphere in the classroom was great,” said senior copywriter Atsuko Ando, who lectured at Fudan University in June.

Ando and other Dentsu staffers said they were amazed that more than half of those enrolled are women, while only 20 percent of Dentsu’s employees are women.

Many students questioned how the gigantic firm could successfully keep clients’ secrets when they serve rival companies from the same industry, said Shi Taoka, a deputy director in charge of the project.

The students have also shown interest in Dentsu’s widely differing ways of doing business, including presenting soccer games and major expositions, said Ryuichi Mori, director of Dentsu’s newspaper division, who also headed the Dentsu staffers at Fudan University.

“It is not a matter of whether the Western style or our style is better,” he said. “It’s up to the Chinese people to decide what’s best for them.”

Dentsu estimates the budget of the five-year project at over 600 million yen, but Narita denied that the project is part of the company’s overseas strategy.

“I think it’s important that people in both countries have the chance to learn and understand each other, and this is really a grassroots movement for communication,” Narita said.

“Both the students and the teachers participating in this project feel that we are acting as a conduit in what we are learning,” Yu, of Fudan University, said. “In many ways, I think this is a project for communication.”