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IBM’s moronic new ad about China

If you live in a America and you have watched any television in the last couple weeks, you have likely seen some of IBM’s “help desk” commercials, the company’s attempt to, as Reuters phrases it, “put a human face on the services it offers.” In IBM’s whitewashed parallel cyber-universe, friendly, soft-spoken people sit behind desks waiting to help real people solve their real-people problems. “We wanted to show that we’re not just talking about technology for technology’s sake … but things that affect not only business but the world and society at large,” said Deirdre Bigley, IBM’s vice president of worldwide advertising.

Unfortunately, one of the ads — produced by Ogilvy & Mather — shows IBM to have a rather myopic view of the world at large, especially China. This is a common problem in corporate America, blinded by the supposed gold in them thar Chinese hills. The 30-second spot does not bode well for IBM’s future in the “world’s fastest-growing economy.” Nope, the “Big Blue” just doesn’t get China at all, it seems. Interesting for a company whose computer business was just taken over by Lenovo — a Chinese company.

Here is the transcript for the commercial in question:

Cute Chinese-Looking Girl: Is this the help desk? I need help.
Man Behind Desk: What kind of help?
Cute Chinese-Looking Girl: Dinosaurs and robots and outer space and why the sky is blue. Lots of stuff.
Man Behind Desk: (befuddled) Don’t you learn that in school?
Cute Chinese-Looking Girl: I don’t go to school. It’s too far. I live on a farm in China.
Man Behind Desk: (concerned) I see.
Cute Chinese-Looking Girl: Is there room for me over there? (gesturing to a classroom of children off in the distance)
Man Behind Desk: (smiling proudly) We’re virtual. There’s always room.
Cute Chinese-Looking Girl: Yeah! (she excitedly runs off to study with her new classmates, who just happen to represent most bars on the cultural rainbow)

There we have it. Problem solved. If you live on a farm in rural China and there are no schools nearby, just log-on to the internet and study from your home. Simple. And easy. Because every farmer in China has a computer and internet access.

Oh wait … no they don’t.

But, really, why not? I mean, they’re part of the world’s fastest growing economy, right? What else are they going to spend their $999 annual income on? Food? Clothing?

Maybe IBM should make sure that all Chinese farmers have electricity before inviting them to virtual classrooms.

View the ad yourself: Go here. Choose “Education” from the pull-up menu. Click on the television set. Watch the clip. And then explain to me how this cute little Chinese farmgirl learned to speak such perfect English. It’s really amazing — no Chinese accent at all. Who needs school? Virtual or otherwise.

01.24.2005, 2:35 PM · Business, Television, Video

18 Comments


  1. Maybe IBM should make sure that all Chinese farmers have electricity before inviting them to virtual classrooms.
    hahaha, IBM didn’t do enough homework, did they?


  2. right on. i said the *exact* same thing when i saw this commercial last night. fools.


  3. Another victim of Stupidity!

    If IBM has too much money how actually using it more productively!


  4. As far as what I have known, there is a certain type of experimental education network in China, through which some remotely located schools can have access to videos of classes recorded in famous primary/high schools, like those in Beijing. This is also sort of a virtual class, isn’t it?


  5. Hmm, I think you’ve all missed the point. The real tragedy in these commercials is that the people at the help desk are never very friendly, and rarely helpful.


  6. grade school education is compulsory in china. so children of the age of the girl in the ad would receive education. but most rural schools lacked funds and generally very backwards.

    http://www.nacef.org/english/


  7. See, it’s NOT just me! I told my husband this ad was stupid and he actually did a Google search to prove me wrong… and got this page. :)


  8. I don’t think the ad is that stupid. Sorry to be unpopular, but there are English teaching websites that teach English to people who, for whatever reason, can’t get to a school.
    I mean if they had changed the girl so that she spoke Chinese with English subtitles… is it really that important?

    Chinese adverts are ridiculous. Almost all adverts worldwide are. If you ‘expected better’ from America then you clearly have no idea what world we live in.

    I’m sure lots of people thought ‘yeeehaa! we’re sure teaching ‘em hasian kids up good!’

    95% of adverts are based at the lowest common denomintor. So don’t be surprised otherwise you’ll be angry at every single ad.


  9. the ad is moronic because it is assuming that any common farm girl in china would have not only internet access, but access to a computer and even basic, reliable electricity. not just because the chinese girl in an american commercial is speaking english. common farmers in china are just scraping by, and don’t have the money to spend on a computer, nor are they going to be concerned with learning to use a website for the purpose of learning english which they will never use.

    yes, there are english websites that teach english to people who can’t get to school. but what use is that when reliable electricity and just making enough money to survive are main concerns?


  10. This advertisement is adsurb.


  11. I would like to see it
    let me know where


  12. Hot off the press, an inteview with CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide:

    http://english.people.com.cn/200502/27/eng20050227_174878.html

    IBM is discussed, but no mention of the farm girl ad. My favorite question/answer:

    Q: According to some reports, American government has recently signed a contract with Ogilvy. US government wants Ogilvy to help build a better international image for America. Some media even nicknamed you A Lady Prinking for Uncle Sam. Is it a difficult job to prink for America? What are you going to do in order to make the international image of America better?

    Shelly Lazarus (CEO, O&M Worldwide): This question is incorrect and we will not be providing a response.

    I didn’t know questions could be “incorrect.”


  13. I would like to see it
    let me know where

    Read the entry again — especially the part at the bottom that starts “View the ad yourself.”


  14. I saw an ad on TV in California where couples of all assorted races and colors are arguing about their long-distance phone bills: “Who called all these people? Was it you?” “No, it wasn’t me”, “yes it was you” etc. Towards the end of the commercial, there’s a Chinese couple with the wife screaming at her husband, “NI NI NI NI NI NI NI NI!!!!”. Funny.


  15. China has one of the fastest growing rates of PC use in the world. Even the most remote villages have PCs and in cities everybody has them. Also, China is communist and made sure everybody had electricity a long long time ago. Most Chinese cities now are much more modern than scumholes like LA. China is going to whoop our pansy American asses in the near future. IBM selling out to Lenovo (Chinese) is just the start.


  16. Well although LA is probably the worst city on the face of the earth and many Chinese cities are a lot more modern than American ones that doesn’t make them better. America is doomed but not as quickly as you think. It will take the next generation coming through the worst public schooling system in the world to really ruin us. Travelling to Cuba, China, Iran, Asia, Europe etc has made me realise that we really are a shithole of a country. The worst schools, the only developed country with massive poverty and homelessness problems - no wonder we don’t often travel as a nation - it opens our eyes to the fact that we really are a pisspoor nation. Ugly, ignorant, lazy, fat, McDonalds-ridden, corrupt, petty and generally wheezing our last gasps before we collapse.


  17. Shanghai reads just like the arrogant Japanese sounded a few years ago. The difference is they new humility before they started to fight. IBM sold a subsidiary arm. A Chinese company bought it. The big deal is what? Don’t be arrogant. It has never looked good on any culture.

    IBM shouldn’t be thinking about farms in china right? The Chinese don’t think about those peasants?

    America’s reason for success? They care. This is the reason for their dominance. Their confidence is not the arrogance that so many believe but rather a desire to help. Time we took note of the reasoning of their success and not complain because they succeed and are happy about it when they don’t fail.


  18. why does the little chinese girl have ana merican accent?

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Shanghai Diaries is a website about Shanghai, China ... and lots of other stuff. Voted Best Mainland China Blog in the 2004 Asia Blog Awards.

Editor: Dan Washburn

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