Vietnam is considering if it ought to restrict foreign ads, Richard Cook
Two years ago, the Vietnamese Government awoke to find that its
dignified procession towards more open government had one unfortunate
It wasn’t that the influx of foreign investment had subverted classless
party teachings and created a new class of entrepreneurial millionaires.
No, what the Government decided was that the unacceptable face of
capitalism was far simpler - it was advertising.
To be precise, it was the proliferation of poster sites that had
appeared almost overnight in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City without proper
authorisation - as many as 10,000 of them, it was thought, although no-
one knew for sure.
The Vietnamese did what any self-respecting, would-be progressive
government might do and banned them. In Hanoi one or two of the posters
came down, but no-one in Ho Chi Minh City appeared to take any notice.
Sure enough, a couple of weeks later the Government’s ‘foreign relations
department’ briefed the press that the poster panic was over and
advertising could carry on as normal.
Until now. Two weeks ago the Culture Minister, Tran Hoan, launched a
campaign against what he described as ‘social evils and cultural
poisons’. A measure of Hoan’s moral outrage fell on two totems of the
new Vietnam, karaoke and advertising.
Unlike the temporary advertising crisis in 1994, it’s not just ads for
tobacco and alcohol that have come under scrutiny. Many posters use dual
language slogans, with the Vietnamese invariably in smaller type. That
some of this cultural imperialism is coming from US brands such as Coca-
Cola and Marlboro adds an extra piquancy to the problem.
However, just ten days after Hoan published Decree 87, banning social
and cultural evils like advertising, there are signs of a thaw in
relations between the Government and advertisers. But then foreign
advertisers spent about pounds 45 million in Vietnam last year, and that
kind of investment tends to raise the temperature.
Earlier this week, the Culture Ministry’s international relations
department stressed that advertising would no longer be limited under
the new directive. Hoan has gone on record since he issued the decree to
state that advertising is not a cultural poison, despite what the
actions of the police - who tore down some posters and painted over
others immediately after the decree was published - may have led
advertisers to believe.
Advertising may have escaped this time. It can continue to grow in this
fast-developing market thanks in part to a strong overseas lobby. Let’s
hope that karaoke fares just as well.