How big is your chimney?

When I take the thoroughly modern local tram from our campus towards Carrefour to stock up on cheese and Alpen, I don’t actually get to see much of Dalian. What I do see is mile after mile of huge billboard advertisements for new condominiums called things like Your Marjesty (sic) and Tycoon’s Paradise Village. The developments themselves take up an increasing amount of space both in Chinese cities and in the countryside (I especially noticed it on the way from Beijing to the Great Wall), and in addition to the huge, huge billboards blotting out a lot of the landscape, adverts for them also take up page after page in in-flight and ex-pat magazines.

In fact it often seems like wherever you turn in China you’re faced with marketing of some kind, if not with those red banners which I never know if they display marketing, propaganda or a happy mix of the two. Waiting for the lift in the electronic department store where I go to pick up my weekly three dozen or so DVDs, there is a TV screen on the wall which shows adverts and nothing else. On the bus home the TV intersperses the same Tom & Jerry cartoon with adverts, adverts, adverts and the occasional karaoke video. It’s sometimes difficult to get into the local supermarket because of the crowd gathered around the stall outside handing out free samples of those really quite odd tasting milk tablets.

I’m prepared to accept that this is a sign of progress and there is not much in this that I didn’t have to put up with in Europe (apart from the karaoke and Tom and Jerry, that is. And the milk tablets, of course). However, advertising in China has taken on a new and particularly aggravating form: stickers prominently displaying a phone number and some sort of service (no, I don’t think it’s the obvious one so ubiquitous in London telephone boxes) for sale. These stickers don’t just attach themselves to lampposts and any available vertical surface – in an innovative move that I really hope hasn’t caught on elsewhere, they are stuck on the pavement.

I guess the people trying to drum up trade in this way have realised that if they hand people a leaflet it will just end up on the floor unread, so they have started advertising on litter, and litter that can’t be removed (the stickers they use are of that extremely irritating type that they stick directly onto the CDs in a lot of record shops, which you need washing up liquid and a brillo pad to remove) and cannot be avoided. Once a sticker is stuck, it stays there for quite some time, and probably does get its message across.

Now I’ve mentioned before that there are lots of things in China that make me angry or depressed, but which I know I’ve got no hope whatsoever of ever doing anything about. It’s the same with these things; here in China my opinion counts for nothing, and I’m leaving very soon anyway. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that this innovative new advertising medium – sticker litter – might well begin to catch on in other countries, if it hasn’t already. And I’ve got a good idea about how to do something about it.

My idea involves two very common items: one, a mobile phone, obviously very common indeed these days. The second thing is not so common, but very cheap, even lighter to carry and very easy to get your hands on: a simple ordinary whistle.

Imagine the scene: Poor Unfortunate (although she doesn’t know it yet) Receptionist is sitting tapping on a keyboard, looking for pictures of kittens on the internet and trying to avoid doing any actual work. The phone rings.

PUR: Hello, this is Tiny Tim Chimney Sweep Services, how can I help you?
ME (or maybe YOU): Hi, I saw an advert, is this the right number? It was stuck in the street, ‘We Clean Any Chimneys, Very Cheap Price, Very Small Chimney Sweep Gets Into All Nooks And Crannies, Does Not Soil Fireplace?’
PUR: Yes, that’s us, how big is your chimn..
PUR: AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!! (Slams down phone, holds ears).

Phone rings.
PUR: I’m not ******* well answering that. BOOOOSS!!!

You know, at first it might be difficult for them to make the connection, but given time and persistence the message should get through. As I say, I don’t know yet if sticker litter advertising has taken off elsewhere, but I’m going to invest in a whistle, just in case. And I’m thinking of snapping up before anyone else can.

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