CLOSE-UP: GLOBAL BRIEF; Ads escape Vietnamese ban

Vietnam is considering if it ought to restrict foreign ads, Richard Cook reports

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

side effect.

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.


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