Decline Watch: GM drops Super Bowl advertising for Manchester United

Last month, General Motors announced that it would not be advertising in this year's Super Bowl, because of the high prices charged by network CBS. But as the Detroit Free Press reports, the company isn't pulling out of sports advertising, it's just looking further afield: 

General Motors, which said earlier this month it would not advertise in next year's Super Bowl, plans to announce today a broad marketing and sponsorship plan with the Manchester United soccer team, a person familiar with GM's plans confirmed.

The deal would give GM major visibility alongside a soccer team that has a worldwide following -- and it would fit with the automaker's strategy of making Chevrolet and Cadillac strong global brands.[...]

Manchester United, one of the most successful clubs in English soccer, released a survey Tuesday conducted by Kantar Media Compete that showed it has 659 million followers throughout the world. But about 89.2% of its fans are located outside the Americas, the survey found. The team is particularly popular in Asia, where it has 325 million followers. It also boasts 173 million in the Middle East and Africa.

As Yiping Yang notes, Chevy will be sponsoring two Man U games in China this summer as part of the deal. 

It seems like a good idea on paper, but has anyone told them how few commercial breaks there are in a soccer game?



How to criticize the government on Chinese social media

The blog Tea Leaf Nation has written about a fascinating Harvard study that shows what posts get censored in Chinese cyberspace and why. The blog post (and the study itself) are worth reading in full, but, briefly, the study postulates that while censorship attempts to obfuscate it also "exposes an extraordinarily rich source of information about the Chinese governmen's interests, intentions, and goals" (italics in the original), and that the government doesn't necessarily censor posts with "negative, even vitriolic criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies," but rather focuses on "comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content." 

The second point especially seems to be a more nuanced understanding of Chinese censorship: someone blowing off steam is fine, even if it's "unambiguously against the state and its leaders," as long as it doesn't encourage destabilizing action.    

As an example, the researches cite the posts on the Chinese internet after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in March 2011, where some Chinese who believed (incorrectly) that salt would help protect them from radiation poisoning wanted to rush to buy salt. The study found that posts about the salt rush were heavily censored because they are "highly localized collective expressions that threaten to encourage group formation" even though they don't directly involve criticism of the state.

Contrastingly, the researchers cite a post which they describe as an example of a criticism that the censorship apparatus left untouched: "this is a city government that treats life with contempt, this is government officials run amuck," the post reads, "a place where officials all have mistresses, a city government that is shameless with greed." A good reaffirmation that there is a space for civil discourse (or rambling screeds) on the Chinese internet.