The McCann Time Capsule: APAC-American Heritage Month and . . . China
It’s hard to imagine any McCann international expansion celebrated in quite the dramatic way as the one that included shooting a big gun off at noon in Hong Kong. But that’s how top McCann and IPG executives on Oct. 30, 1979 marked McCann becoming the first U.S.-based international agency to establish an office in the People’s Republic of China.
The gun itself is a fabled one, owned by the large and legendary multinational Jardine Matheson, which was McCann’s joint venture partner in opening in China. The noonday gun itself is also famous in its own right, having made its way as a lyric line into Noel Coward’s famous song, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.”
McCann-Erickson Jardine (China) Ltd., which was managed through the McCann Tokyo office, provided full agency services to western clients in China, and to China foreign trade corporations and organizations outside China through offices in Hong Kong and Beijing. The JV, which was replaced two years later by another partnership and subsequently became our wholly owned operations in Greater China, called for McCann to handle professional and managerial aspects of the agency, while Jardine Matheson was responsible for government and commercial organization relations in China.
The JV with Jardine Matheson would be replaced in 1991 by one with China’s Guangming newspapers, and offices were opened in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. This also led —25 years ago on June 25, 1992!—to our running General Motors’ first ad in China. The ad ran in several newspapers in conjunction with the opening of the Beijing Auto Show. It featured the Buick Park Avenue, but focused on GM’s global leadership overall with the headline saying that one-sixth of the world’s car buyers chose a GM vehicle. “Now, you can make the same choice,” the ad said.
In fact, McCann’s China presence and capabilities actually go back much further. As early as 1946 it was placing client Schenley Reserve whiskey’s advertising in that country through an affiliate called China Commercial Advertising Agency in Shanghai. The Ling family owners of China Commercial left the PRC in 1949 and moved to Hong Kong, and would connect up with McCann in a different way in the early 1960s when the agency was expanding rapidly in Asia.
McCann in 1963 formed a JV with China Commercial to establish Ling-McCann-Erickson in Hong Kong. The agency, whose clients included Colgate-Palmolive and Nestlé, would add Coca-Cola and other multinationals to the mix. Ling-McCann-Erickson would also then become a platform for further expansion throughout the Asia region, including starting a branch office in Bangkok in 1965.