High-Speed Train Sponsorship Reveals Future of Advertising

China sponsorship

Many an alert reader may well have noticed that sponsorship has started appearing on the exterior of China’s now-legendary, high-speed trains. As the most visible sign of a future trend in advertising, the move once again serves to illustrate that, despite what the authorities may wish us to believe, China is indeed the world’s most capitalist state.

Inside the cabin, all appears normal, at first. Sure, there are the ads on the backs of tray tables for “Kuaishou”, an up-coming competitor to video sharing APP Douyin, but then the announcements begin. The new sponsor now also appears therein, while the frequency of the announcements, together with their volume, has increased too.

While such paid-for audio is a relatively new development for the “gaotie”, or high-speed trains, the Chinese side of the announcements on the Nanjing Metro have been sponsored for years, whereby paying advertisers have their business included in the announcement that precedes arrival at the station in nearest proximity, in the form of, “Alight here for the ICBC, Dapaidang restaurant”, etc.

English announcements, on the other hand, remain largely devoid of sponsorship, meaning foreigners not in the know may blissfully spend their journey in a kind of advertisement-free heaven. The exception thereto is Nanjing Metro Line 4, which opened, in all innocence, at the start of last year. Its childhood was to be short lived, however, as within weeks the announcements were changed to include Suning Finance as primary sponsor, on both the Chinese and English announcements.

That all said, it can be, and probably will be, very much worse.

The Nanjinger has acquired the media kit of Changda Media, an advertising agency with the rights to a large swathe of China’s railway network and many types of high-speed trains, including some on the much sought-after Beijing to Shanghai route.

The eye-opening PowerPoint document reveals that there is far, far more on the advertising and sponsorship menu than the backs of mere headrests. From the underside of luggage racks to the glass of the windows themselves, every conceivable surface of the train is, in fact, for sale.

Such does not come cheap, unsurprisingly. As an example, a package of five different kinds of advertising on the Beijing to Tianjin route will set you back ¥4.32 million for 1 year. As far as its effectiveness goes, this is likely to be pretty good value for money, given that the audience is almost completely captive.

Yet, that would be to not address the wider issue; just where is advertising headed in China, and is there no end to that which can be sponsored? With a bit of imagination, together with the GPS residing in your smartphone, there is no potential limit.

Imagine a future, in which your favourite tunes blasting in your headphones as are interrupted, not by a friend on the line or a not-particularly-important email, but by a disembodied voice, informing you that, “On your left, on the 25th floor, Chou Toufa Hairdressing is offering a free colouring, for today only”.

Hey, to heck with it all. That excruciatingly annoying GPS voice in your car might as well just get it over with and say, “This kilometre of your journey is sponsored by…” The Nanjinger predicts sales of paper maps and compasses to rebound considerably. Nothing capitalist about that, unless the maps were to be sponsored by the Communist Party, that is.

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Frank Hossack
Editor-in-chief and Music Critic, Frank Hossack, has been a radio host and producer for the past 34 years, the past 25 of which working in media in China, in the process winning four New York Festivals awards for his work, in the categories Best Top 40 Format, Best Editing, Best Director and Best Culture & The Arts. 贺福是我们杂志的编辑和音乐评论员,在过去的34年里一直从事电台主持和电台制片的工作。在中国有近25年的媒体工作经验。工作期间他曾经四次获得过纽约传媒艺术节大奖,分别是世界前40强节目奖,最佳编辑奖,最佳导演奖以及最佳文化艺术奖。