Michigan ads seen in China

Updated: 2012-09-28 10:59

By Yu Wei in New York (China Daily)

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Michigan ads seen in China

The screen shot above is from one of five Pure Michigan tourism videos now available, with subtitles, on Chinese website Youku. Youku

Michigan may not strike most Chinese as a top travel destination in the United States, but if Li Hairong and Tom Watkins get their way, the state will become a hotspot for tourists seeking something different.

Michigan, perhaps best known for auto manufacturing, has "much, much more to offer" beyond the plants run by the Detroit Three (Chrysler, Ford Motor Co and General Motors), Watkins said.

"New York and San Francisco are beautiful, as are Beijing and Shanghai. But if you want beauty and to experience what America is truly about, come to Michigan," the former school superintendent said.

His friend Li, a professor of advertising at Michigan State University, agreed.

"Chinese tourists who have seen the [US] East and West coasts may be looking for something different, and Michigan is the right place," he said.

The duo hit on the idea of revamping five videos to pitch Michigan as a destination for tourists from China. The 30-second spots are part of the Pure Michigan campaign begun in 2006 by the state Economic Development Corporation. Subtitled in Chinese, they're now available on China's video-sharing website Youku, which has 500 million users.

"There are more businesspeople from Michigan traveling to China, and they often need to introduce Michigan to the Chinese people," said Li, a Beijing native who has lived in the state since 1987.

When he gives talks about advertising and branding in China, Li screens the Pure Michigan commercials for his Chinese audiences, often prompting remarks about the Great Lakes State's natural beauty. The subtitles from the spots' original voice-over - by Michigan-born actor Tim Allen - were transcribed by Cao Lu, a former student of Li's.

"Those commercials are intended to help the Chinese people learn more about our beautiful state, visually and vividly," the professor said.

Watkins points to Michigan's "clean air, vast forests" and its unique geography - bounded by four of the five Great Lakes, which together contain 20 percent of the world's fresh water. The state also boasts more championship public golf courses than anywhere else in the US, he added.

Both of the state's main public higher-education institutions, Michigan State and the University of Michigan, rank in the top 10 in the US for the number of international students. The majority of this group on each campus are from China.

"These Chinese students are adding value to our state," Watkins said. "It is our goal to make Michigan a great place not only for students to receive a great education, but to make their stay memorable so they may consider staying to create a business or encourage their family back in China to seek investment opportunities here."

State leaders are pursuing such opportunities with vigor. Governor Rick Snyder recently returned from China, where he led a delegation of Michigan officials and businesspeople. It was Snyder's second trade trip to China since taking office in January 2011.

"Governor Snyder understands that it takes time to develop the relationships necessary to seal deals," Watkins said. "He is seeking to develop a relationship with both private businesses and government officials in China."

Watkins said a priority for the state is to increase exports of agricultural goods, technology and services to China while creating investment opportunities for Chinese companies.

Besides the online videos, the state is marketing its brand in China. The Economic Development Corporation is leading representatives of 21 Michigan companies on a two-week trip to China to pursue export opportunities, agency spokesman Michael Shore said.

"There are many opportunities of mutual benefit for the people of China and the people of Michigan through increased trade and foreign direct investment as well as educational and cultural exchanges," he said.

Li and Watkins' next tourist-outreach effort is to share the Pure Michigan spots with Chinese travel agencies.

The US welcomed more than 520,000 visitors from the Chinese mainland during the first six months of 2012, up 42.5 percent from the first half of last year, according to the Commerce Department.