Selling it

This post is rated PG (hey, Ruth, just fyi!)

There are many Chinas. This country is huge in terms of population, land mass, and variety of social standards. Tianjin is a huge city, but socially and culturally it’s sort of conservative… I guess. At least, it’s not Shanghai.

I’ve seen this ad on bus stops and in hole-in-the-wall restaurants, along with different ads that are doing the same thing. I think they’re an interesting snapshot of what apparently passes for an acceptable level of sex appeal in marketing:

The women are dressed modestly compared to what they’d be wearing were this ad targeted to an American audience. Notice that their cleavage is strategically covered. We’ve seen a few ads that use breasts to sell products while conspicuously (to us) covering up the cleavage. Coca-Cola wants to show rich, good-looking young people wearing clothes that show some skin, perhaps even deliberately drawing attention to their breasts, without actually showing the skin (I’ve seen this more prominently in other ads). It looks to me like they’re walking a fine line at the edge of some perceived limit of sexualized advertising, or perhaps they’re obeying the ‘letter of the law’ of some advertising regulation that is actually enforced.

Now, compare that with this giant billboard, taken from our yáng tái (阳台) window, on our route to school:

It’s for some sort of ballet performance (I think), and it has some ballet dancers doing their thing in white, form-fitting, see-though underwear (the artsy dancing kind, not the sexy kind). As you can see, the people are giant-size. But what you can’t see because I didn’t take a close-up is that – despite the inhuman amount of Photoshopping that usually goes into ads around here – when you walk by it’s hard not to notice a lot of subtle details that you wish you hadn’t noticed. Which in this case aren’t really subtle at all, but glaringly obvious, especially since the figures are giant size. When biking past I’ve seen other cyclists stopping and pointing. I think it would provoke some mild eyebrow raising even in the West.

After passing our first summer in Tianjin, I have to say there was a distinct lack of cleavage compared to North America. That’s not to say the girls don’t wear skimpy clothes, but aside from night club xiǎo jies (小姐), we rarely saw women showing off their cleavage.

Coca-cola goes out of their way to avoid showing a bit of cleavage that probably wouldn’t even get noticed in the West, and some other company allows stuff that would get censored in many Western venues? I don’t get it. But, we don’t get most stuff around here. I wonder, though, how many years back this stuff wouldn’t have been allowed, and how quickly cities like Tianjin will become how permissive. These two photos shown here were taken within a mile of each other.

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