China is pushing its exports as the global economy recovers

Tainted toothpaste, drugged catfish, lead-painted Elmos, poison pet food.

Scandals involving Chinese-made products have ordinary people here worried that a bad reputation threatens to derail their status as No. 1 exporter in the world.


So what to do? Call in Madison Avenue.

“Made in China, made with the world” is the theme of an ad campaign masterminded by DDB Guoan, the Chinese branch of Manhattan-based agency DDB.

“Overcoming Western prejudice will be a long process for us. And we have to be more patient and tolerant, and adopt more ways of communication,” Renmin University communication professor Yu Guoming told China Daily.

Commercials for the campaign just ended a six-week run on cable networks in the United States, Europe and Asia. One of the 30-second spots shows a couple of teen girls dancing at a bus stop using an MP3 player “Made in China with software from Silicon Valley.” Another shows a jogger tying his sneakers “Made in China with American sports technology.”

The point is to inform consumers that Chinese goods are not 100% Chinese, in a manner of speaking.

“It’s a fact that many products made in China are designed in cooperation with other countries,” DDB Guoan account director Rick Zheng says. “It helps create a positive, objective image for made-in-China products.”

It’s an image that has taken a hit in recent years:

• In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration halted imports of fish and shrimp because they were found to contain unsafe drugs. The FDA also warned against the use of toothpaste after some tubes were found to contain a chemical used in antifreeze.

• Pet food laced with industrial chemicals led to the biggest recall of pet food in North America in 2007.

• Toymaker Mattel recalled nearly 1 million China-made toys covered in lead paint, such as the Elmo Tub Sub, also in 2007.

• Two months ago, the Consumer Product Safety Commission warned that some Chinese-made drywall was corroding metal and wires in homes and had high levels of formaldehyde.

Article continues below

The Chinese seem to agree their image has suffered.

A December survey of people in five major Chinese cities showed that 44% said counterfeit and shoddy goods were the second-worst blot on China’s image, behind corruption at 59%, according to the Horizon Research Consultancy. Whether an ad campaign will help is in debate.

“The government says it’s going down well, but if you read the blogs and the undercurrent, there’s been a lot of criticism,” says Ray Ally, a brand consultant at Landor Associates in Beijing.

Zhu Ning, coordinator for an electronics fair in Qingdao, defended her country’s exports.

“Only a small proportion of Chinese products have a poor reputation, as the situation is improving,” she said, calling the campaign “uplifting.”

The China Advertising Association of Commerce says the next step in the campaign should be to highlight products exclusively “designed or created in China,” says Liu Libin, director of the association, which helped fund the campaign.

Ally says China intends to follow the Japanese model of entering the U.S. market at the lower end before moving up-market.

“In five to 10 years, everyone will have a Chinese TV or washing machine, and you won’t think twice about it,” he says.

Via USA Today