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Chin up, Cheer up, Carry on

SHANGHAI TV is developing lively human-interest spots to encourage and inspire folks during the economic downturn. The message: "Believe in Life, Believe in the Future." Xu Wei tunes in.

Well-known TV hostess Chen Chen is now a gas station attendant in grimy clothes pumping petrol in a busy service station. Harried drivers come and go, and she urges them: "Put the past behind and move on."

Another TV personality, Cao Kefan, sings opera excerpts for retired workers in a city park. The audience is all smiles. The message: "Believe that life has its own sweet melody."

Host Zhu Zhen is a waiter rushing about a small restaurant, serving delicious dishes one after another. "Life is full of taste," he says, "and wonderful flavors."

These 30-second public service spots are among 12 "Cheer Up" ads developed by Shanghai Media Group and broadcast on all outlets to lift spirits during the economic downturn.

Life is still good and getting better - that's the idea. It also goes out on the groups Website and on cell phones.

They feature 12 well-known TV personalities playing ordinary folks, including Chen Lei and Wang Guan.

These spots run all day, including prime time, and they're very popular.

SMG is reaching out to Netizens for ideas for the next series of cheer-up spots, also themed "Believe in Life, Believe in the Future."

They are refreshing after the standard, poorly funded public-service ads that preach about traffic safety, saving water and public etiquette. Full of dos and don'ts and textbook advice, they're a turn-off, literally.

These too, however, may be tackled in a creative way in the future, and ideas are being solicited from Netizens.

Every day around prime time, Xu Lan, a 30-year-old sales manager, turns on TV and checks every channel for this 30-second ad, her favorite public-service ad so far.

"In these tough times when most people are fragile like frightened birds, anything heartwarming is extremely helpful," she says. "It's inspiring."

In one of the most impressive scenes, famed TV sports caster plays a tough boss whose enterprise is hard hit by the downturn. When he finds that all his employees volunteer to work overtime and support the business, he is moved to tears. No words are necessary.

Other spots:

Hostess Wang plays a young woman who owns a flower shop. "Life is full of color," she reminds viewers.

Hostess Ni Lin plays a taxi driver maneuvering through traffic, going this way and that. Her message: "Take the wheel and stay on the right road."

Host Chen plays a father who takes his daughter to school and urges her to "study hard."

"People usually forget to smile when they are dissatisfied with their life," says Huang Hui, director of the series of spots. "Our ads feature common daily life scenes that viewers can identify with. It can give them a little lift when they're blue and help them to carry on."

Director Huang and his team worked for three months to film the public service ads. The young director also shot public-interest videos on the Beijing Olympic Games.

He expects more interesting public-service and public-interest ads.

"Funding and shortage of creativity are two major problems confronting public service ads," he adds. "They are usually financed by local government institutions and big media groups. But this production was financed by a car brand."

Skoda Fabia, which gets a five-second banner at the end, is actually not the first brand to sponsor public service and public interest advertising. Last year China Tobacco sponsored the video campaign "1/2008," in which 10 well-known Chinese film makers captured the most touching and powerful moments of the year.

Bright Dairy and Wyeth also sponsored a series of public-service announcements and appeals for assistance after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan and other neighboring provinces on May 12.

"There is a trend for public-service advertising to interact more with commercial brands," says Jin Zhongbo, director of SMG advertising center. "For both parties, it is a win-win approach."

Well-funded public-service announcements are more creative and effective - and they give the sponsors a good image.

Making a public-service TV ad costs from several hundred thousand yuan to 1 million yuan. There is no formal organization, foundation or production team for such advertising.

"That's why we don't see many high-quality ads of this kind," says Wang Yidou, a university student majoring in advertising.

Wang and other students attended last year's Advertising Pageant and were amazed at the startling creativity, polish and effectiveness of such advertising in the West. Anti-smoking, AIDS awareness and many environmental issues were among those addressed.

Director Huang will soon start shooting a series of ads promoting the Shanghai World Expo 2010. Public-service videos commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake are also being produced.

This year's public-interest video campaign "1/2009" will be launched later this year. Film makers will make three-minute videos showing the unity, courage and confidence of ordinary people facing current challenges in the economic downturn.


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