Know your audience

This is a billboard in the subway station in Shanghai. This was taken at 徐家汇, line 9.

It reads:

The most enjoyable way to learn Chinese: Qing Dao Pi Jiu
【喝青岛 懂中国】

The Mandarin at the bottom:

zài Zhōngguó hē jiǔ, huì shuō “qīngdǎo píjiǔ”,
In China when drinking beer, you can say “Tsing Tao beer”

kěnéng bǐ huì shuō “nǐhǎo” gèng zhòngyào.
which is perhaps even more important than being able to say “hello”.

There are other ways, probably better ways, to translate that first 在中国喝酒 part. But that’s not the point. There are a few things here that are more important.

What struck me first is that Tsing Tao, which uses the old Wade-Giles Postal Romanisation* form for their name**, then has pinyin in the ad. Well, they should, if they’re teaching foreigners how to say their name. Every time another friend comes to visit me in China, or every time I meet someone over drinks who just got here, they invariably pronounce it “ʦʰiŋ tʰaʊ”, which is what you’d expect for the spelling if you didn’t know any better. But then I got to thinking about this a little more.

What’s with the bottom part being in Mandarin? It’s telling us Expo go-ers (or so I assume) that it’s more useful to know how to say “Bring me a beer” than “hi”. The tagline at the bottom, which appeared on the other Tsing Tao ads in the subway, says “Drink Tsing Tao, Understand China”. But then, if you can read that, you already understand China because you’re probably Chinese.

And that’s who the ad is actually targeting. This seems to be another “Let’s use English to make ourselves look more international/hip/whatever” when English speakers aren’t who they’re targeting.

Oddly enough, I was doing a quick search on Baidu to see if I could get a version of this ad that was clearer than my phone managed to capture. While doing so I saw a post that was something like “Why do all the laowai in China like TsingTao so much??”

Maybe because we have it in the West. Or maybe because it’s all the same crap and it seems safer than drinking a beer called “beer” spelled backwards. Ice cold IPA, anyone?

– – –
* I should have known my audience would have picked up on that and that fact-checking was in order. Thanks, Brendan.
** much like Peking University, among others.

11 responses to “Know your audience”

  1. I really can’t believe that I haven’t seen any Qingdao/Tsingtao ad say something like 请倒青岛.

    (You saw it here first!)

  2. Brendan says:

    Quick nitpick: ‘Tsingtao’ is the Postal Romanization of 青岛; the Wade-Giles form would be “Ch’ing-tao.” The same is true of ‘Peking University’ — as a general rule, if it keeps the southern velar (“Chungking,” “Nanking,” “Kiangsu” etc) it’s Postal; Wade-Giles was based on northern Mandarin readings.

  3. Duncan says:

    I resent that “Drink Tsingtao, Understand China” line – the brewery was founded by Germans! I mean, I can think of a couple of really cool stories off the top of my head about Shaoxing rice wine for example – 越王勾践以酒赏士 , 兰亭序 – but nothing comes to mind when I think about Tsingtao, except maybe Chinese postal map romanisation. And that’s not exciting.

    Right, right, it’s just advertising.

  4. Brendan: Yeah that’s right. Apologies, everyone. It’s been fixed.

    Duncan: Actually just the other day I was speaking with a German about how Tsingtao has been out of their hands for a century and there’s nothing German left about them. And didn’t they just get in some trouble about environmental issues recently?

  5. Duncan says:

    Kellen: no idea about that. I had a bad experience with a can of Tsingtao on my first visit to China and have subsequently avoided it…

  6. Ah well there you go. Always go bottles. The little brown glass bottles are best. 15rmb though, if not more. Still better than 雪花 or Reeb.

  7. Chris Waugh says:

    The quality of 雪花 varies considerably according to location. Here in Beijing it’s fine. In Linfen it’s bloody awful. I suspect it might be something to do with water quality.

  8. justin says:

    Want to post the URL where you found them asking why foreigners like Qingdao? :> I’d like to giv’em a piece of my mind. I don’t like Qingdao, not really, just prefer it to the ATROCIOUS (and possibly formaldehyde infused) 30 kuai/bottle counterfeit I got last time I tried ordering Corona!

  9. Guangliang says:

    Those ads are pretty original.

  10. Guangliang says:

    请倒青岛 -> why not “请到青岛”? ^_^

  11. Kellen says:

    Shanghaiist just posted other versions of the ads, as well as some explanation on the marketing idea.

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