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An analysis of cultural meanings obtained by Chinese young adults from Yao Ming’s depiction in commercial… Bi, Chunhui 2004

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A N ANALYSIS O F C U L T U R A L MEANINGS OBTAINED B Y CHINESE Y O U N G A D U L T S F R O M Y A O MING'S D E P I C T I O N IN C O M M E R C I A L M E S S A G E S by C H U N H U I BI B.A., Hebei University, 1993  A THESIS S U B M I T T E D IN P A R T I A L F U L F I L L M E N T O F T H E REQUIRMENTS FOR T H E D E G R E E OF M A S T E R O F ARTS  in T H E F A C U L T Y O F G R A D U A T E STUDIES (School of Human Kinetics)  T H E U N I V E R S I T Y O F BRITISH C O L U M B I A December 2004  © Chunhui Bi, 2004  A N ANALYSIS OF T H E C U L T U R A L MEANINGS OBTAFNTED B Y CHINESE Y O U N G A D U L T S F R O M Y A O MING'S DEPICTION IN C O M M E R C I A L MESSAGES Abstract This thesis examines the cultural meanings Chinese young adults obtain from Yao Ming's image in advertising. Yao Ming, a 7-foot-6 inch tall basketball player from Shanghai, China was hired by the Houston Rockets in the first selection of the 2002 N B A draft. His emergence in the N B A has lead to a phenomenon called "Yao Ming Mania." A number of prestigious brands such as Apple, Visa, Pepsi, and Reebok have signed endorsement contracts with him, and Yao Ming has become widely known through endorsement advertisements as well as his media portrayals in N B A coverage. While there are studies on the cultural meanings of celebrities in western countries, a literature review indicates that such research on Chinese athletes is very limited (Dong, 2003). The research builds on work in audience studies by Wilson and Sparks (1996). They suggest that audiences within an "interpretive community" have similar "interpretive strategies" and different "interpretive communities" have different interpretations of media messages. The research also builds on McCracken's (1989) "meaning transfer" model of celebrity endorsements. He suggests that effective celebrity endorsements help transfer useful meanings from the celebrity to the goods they endorse, and that these meanings are delivered to the consumer through purchasing. Based on the conjunction of the audience research and the "meaning transfer" model, this research examined how the "interpretive community" of Chinese students who are living in Vancouver interpreted the meanings mobilized in the endorsements of Yao Ming.  ii  The research schedule had two phases. In the first, using interpretive analysis, 10 current Y a o M i n g endorsement ads were analyzed and five representative commercials were selected for use i n phase two. T w o o f the ads were televised i n China and the other three were televised i n North America. This selection was i n order to examine whether there were cultural difference when the viewers interpreted western and A s i a n commercials o f Y a o M i n g ' s image. In the second phase, these commercials were viewed by five focus groups o f four to six subjects who were university students from China aged 18 to 25, who had studied i n Vancouver for 1-4 years. Focus group reactions to the commercials and to related interpretive questions were recorded using questionnaires and audio taping. The interpretive analysis provided a framework for understanding the meanings o f the commercials, and the focus groups were intended to help identify the meanings the respondents gave to the commercials upon viewing them. Focus groups indicate that respondents' attitudes toward Y a o M i n g were positive and that they thought he delivered positive messages to the endorsed products. Focus group results suggest that three levels o f cultural meanings (1. common meanings as a celebrity, 2. Y a o ' s distinctiveness from most other celebrity athletes, 3. his symbolism o f Chinese and China) contribute to Y a o M i n g ' s marketing popularity and there are no cultural differences o f his image portrayed in Chinese and western commercials. The focus group results show that the two levels o f consumption o f the celebrity image (or the meaning consumption) o f Chinese viewers (1. purchased or intended to purchase, 2. would not purchase) were fairly moderate, while all viewers were consistent i n valuing the hiring Y a o M i n g as an endorser. The results also show that the depth o f influence o f Y a o M i n g varied between male and female viewers. Moreover, a set o f special conditions  iii  may prevail as the result o f living abroad and this may have made the Chinese students' feelings toward a Chinese celebrity stronger than for those who live i n Mainland China.  iv  TABLE OF  CONTENTS  ABSTRACT  ii  T A B L E OF CONTENTS  v  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS CHAPTERI 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4  vii  INTRODUCTION  1  Background Topic and purpose Rationale and potential significance Limitations  C H A P T E R II L I T E R A T U R E R E V I E W  7  II. 1 Theoretical framework II.2 Related studies II. 3 Research on sports marketing and celebrity endorsement i n China C H A P T E R III M E T H O D O L O G Y  1 3 4 5  ,  7 14 20 26  III. 1 Overall approach and rationale 111.2 Phase #1 interpretive analysis 111.3 Phase #2 focus group 111.4 Ethics  26 26 28 37  CHAPTER IV RESULTS A N D A N A L Y S E S TV. 1 Interpretive analysis  38 38  FV.2 Focus group finding  40  CHAPTER V DISCUSSION  67  V . 1 Theoretical Implications o f Study Results for Celebrity Endorsements Literature V . 2 Theoretical Implications o f Study Results for Audience Research Literature V . 3 Implications for Marketing Practice V . 4 Theoretical Implications for Study Results for Research Methodology CHAPTER VI CONCLUSION  v  67 73 75 77 79  V I . 1 Limitations o f the study  79  VI.2 Recommendations for Future Study  80  BIBLIOGRAPHY  85  A P P E N D I X A Focus Groups Participants  91  A P P E N D I X B Three Levels O f Meanings  92  A P P E N D I X C Focus Group Guide  93  A P P E N D I X D Biographical Information  95  A P P E N D I X E Commercial Viewing Questionnaire  96  A P P E N D I X F The Recruitment Poster  97  A P P E N D I X G Ethics Approval Form  98  vi  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thanks R i c k y and Jian who helped me to recruit the members o f the focus groups and thanks to the members o f m y committee who gave me direction and a lot o f suggestions on m y thesis.  vn  CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Background Yao Ming, nicknamed "a little giant" with his 7-foot-6 inch height was hired by the Houston Rockets in the first selection of the N B A 2002 draft. He was from the Shanghai Sharks team and played for China Men's Basketball as well. Soon after he emerged on the stage of the N B A in the 2002-2003 seasons, he attracted major attention from marketers and the media. "Yao Ming Mania" has been sweeping both America and China, especially among the Asian populations in these two counties. Yao Ming websites and fan clubs were immediately established. Meanwhile, a group called "Team Yao" consisting of Jonathan Frenzen, a professor of marketing and ten M B A students at University of Chicago, specializes in designing long-term marketing strategies for Yao. Rather than being set back by the Rockets' failing to make it to the 02-03 play-offs, this interest continues to grow. As a reporter said, "so far, Yao stands tallest in the world of marketing" (Naducci, 2003). Yao is a stylish endorser for a number of well-know brands. In quick succession, a number of prestigious brands signed Yao as their pitchman: •  On January 7, 2003, Sorrent, a leading creator and publisher of games for wireless devices, announced that it signed a contract to develop a Yao Ming-branded basketball game (Clark, 2003).  •  On January 7, 2003, Yao made his first commercial debut for Apple Computer's new notebook computer (Fowler, 2003).  •  On January 23, 2003, Yao appeared in a Visa Commercial that was broadcast during the world's biggest marketing showcase: the Super Bowl (Howard, 2003).  1  •  O n January 29, 2003, China U n i c o m , a listed company on the N A S D A Q Stock Market and the second-largest mobile phone operator signed a two-year, approximately U S $3.6 million endorsement with Y a o (Espnstar, 2003).  •  O n February 6, 2003, sports drink maker Gatorade announced its multiyear signing o f Y a o for its campaign in both the U S and China " T o be like Y a o " quickly became a new popular word i n marketing lexicon (Rovell, 2003).  •  O n September 7, 2003, Sohu.com, a listed company on the N A S D A Q Stock Market and one o f China's most recognized and established Internet brands, announced Y a o as its spokesperson (Sohu, 2003).  •  O n October 23, 2003, athletic footwear giant Reebok signed a multi-year contract with Y a o after his endorsement contract with N i k e expired, i n order to achieve its marketing objective o f 20 percent o f market share i n China, an estimated $300 million, by 2008 (Testa, 2003).  •  O n February 12, 2004, the fast-food giant M c D o n a l d announced the signing o f Y a o M i n g i n a multi-year deal to be part o f McDonald's global "I'm lovin' it" campaign (BDASports, 2004).  Apparently, " T o B e L i k e Y a o " , which is the slogan used by Gatorade, reflects what these companies are hoping to achieve i n the market with Y a o ' s image. This can be seen i n their statements. For instance, Larry Light, M c D o n a l d ' s executive vice president and global chief marketing officer, said in a statement " Y a o M i n g personifies what the M c D o n a l d ' s brand is all about — a youthful, fun, dynamic spirit which connects to today's customers and cultures" (BDASports, 2004). Similarly, Zhang Zhaoyang, an executive o f Sohu.com, said he built on Y a o ' s image as "youthful, fad [sic], dynamic,  2  and self-aggressive", an image he felt was synonymous with the image o f Sohu (Chen, 2003). According to Y e Fengping, executive director at China U n i c o m , the reason for hiring Y a o was because o f his "self-confidence, energy, technical superiority, big figure and big name" (Tschang, 2003). Similarly, Apple and V i s a advertisers said they sought out Y a o ' s " b i g " size, too (Pasick, 2003). This shows a common purpose o f these companies in signing Y a o was to use the cultural meanings associated with his image. Topic and Purpose The process o f linking the meanings o f a celebrity's image with those o f consumer brands is the topic o f this study. This includes two conditions: the cultural meanings o f celebrity endorsers, and audiences' interpretation o f these meanings. M c C r a c k e n (1989) found that the persuasiveness o f a celebrity endorser depends upon the "cultural meanings" the celebrity can bring to a product. F r o m a cultural perspective, his findings provide a clue to seek where Y a o ' s power as a persuasive endorser derives from. Despite marketers' interest i n gaining cultural relevance and value from Y a o , consumers may "actively" interpret commercial portrayals o f a celebrity's image in fundamentally different ways (Wilson & Sparks, 1999). Rather than being influenced by an Olympic hero, this time, Chinese people are intensely influenced b y a Chinese professional athlete who plays for both the Chinese National Basketball Association ( C N B A ) and an N B A team. Y a o seems to be both a local hero with international fame and an international hero with domestic fame. Whereas the interpretation o f Black celebrity athlete endorsements by Canadian youth has been assessed (Wilson & Sparks, 1999), this study focuses on Chinese young adults' responses to a Chinese celebrity athlete.  3  The purpose o f this study was to examine the cultural meanings attributed by Chinese young adults to Y a o ' s image as portrayed i n commercials. W i t h this research, I wanted to figure out what contributes to Y a o ' s marketing popularity from a cultural perspective and whether there were different cultural implications for Y a o ' s image as portrayed i n Chinese and western commercials when Chinese young adults explained them. Rationale and Potential Significance o f the Study A number o f researchers have studied celebrity endorsements (Brooks & Harris, 1998) from the standpoint o f their economic and social influence. Beginning as early as the 1920s and up to present day, from the culturally iconic baseball player Babe Ruth (Susman, 1984; Brooks, 1998) to Michael Jordan (Wilson & Sparks, 1996), a number o f studies have focused on celebrity athlete endorsements with respect to cultural meaning (McCracken, 1989) or audience interpretations (Wilson & Sparks, 1996), i n order to find out the effectiveness and social impact o f celebrity endorsements. Based on the previous research, this study proposes to examine the cultural meanings o f Y a o , a new celebrity athlete who is performing an important role in influencing both the economic activity and social life o f Chinese young adults. While marketers may derive brand image and awareness from Y a o ' s image, this study w i l l emphasize audience interpretations o f the cultural meanings o f Y a o ' s endorsements. A literature search indicates that such research on Chinese athletes is extremely scarce. Most studies that focus on celebrity athletes are in western countries where professional sports have been well developed. Although taken together the Chinese population is the biggest population i n the world, sports marketing i n China is still  4  developing and evolving (Geng, Burton, & Blakemore, 2002). This situation results i n a lack o f research on Chinese celebrity athletes. In the meantime, the globalization o f sports marketing calls for further study on different celebrities with various cultural backgrounds i n order to transcend national cultural "roadblocks such as time, space, language, relationships, power, risk, masculinity, femininity and many others" (Erdogan, 1999, p. 196). Rather than studying mass consumers who have exposure to Y a o ' s image, this study w i l l focus on Chinese young adult consumers who tend to be more influenced by modern media than other Chinese consumers (Zhang & Shavitt, 2003). A number o f questions w i l l be pursued in this study. For example, w i l l Chinese young adults experience Y a o the same ways that marketers anticipate? Or, do they think critically about his image? What do they think and why? A m o n g their interpretations are there positive or negative with aspects o f Y a o ' s image? D o they distinguish the meanings of Yao i n western and Chinese endorsements respectively (e.g. " A s i a n " culture i n western commercials, but western cultural such as the ' N B A ' in Chinese commercials)? H o w might their interpretations offset marketers' understandings o f Y a o ' s value as an endorser? Therefore, this study w i l l make contributions to i) the explanation o f Yao M i n g ' s marketing popularity from a cultural perspective, ii) the development and evolution o f racially sensitive research on Chinese celebrity athlete endorsements, iii) practical knowledge about the effectiveness o f endorsements. Limitations o f the Study This study faces the same limitations as most audience research i n that it:  5  can give only a partial view o f the dynamics o f message assimilation and use at any given time. Not only is it "incomplete" i n terms o f the range o f interpretations that are possible within a given population, it also provides only a limited indication o f what the assessed audience " w i l l do next", and no indication at all o f what the audiences "could do" i f given the chance (Hartley, 1994 c.f. W i l s o n & Sparks, 1996 p. 401) Future studies may vary i n terms o f Y a o ' s performance, target markets i n other locations, media value, or the marketing strategies o f those brands.  6  CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW  Theoretical Framework The theoretical framework for this study relies on two perspectives. One is the theory o f celebrity endorsements (McGuire, 1985; Hovland & Weiss, 1951; McCracken, 1989), and the other is audience research which focuses on how audiences "actively" interpret media texts according to different genres (Morley, 1981). M y intention is to build on the descriptive and analytical power o f extant models in the celebrity endorsement literature by taking account o f how audiences actually respond to endorsement messages. I intend to trace Y a o ' s image from the standpoint o f consumers who are media audiences as well as active message interpreters and recipients o f these messages. Each framework w i l l be discussed i n this chapter. Models o f Celebrity Endorsement Although the purpose o f hiring a celebrity athlete is to draw more attention to the products, the endorsement may not have a positive impact on consumption (Brooks & Harris, 1989). M c C r a c k e n (1989) identifies three accepted models for explaining positive effects o f celebrity endorsements: the "source attractiveness" model, the "source credibility" model, and the "meaning transfer" model. Each i n their o w n way contributes to our understanding o f the conditions under which consumption may happen. The source attractiveness model has its theoretical foundations i n social psychology (McCracken, 1989; Brooks & Harris, 1998; M c G u i r e , 1985). According to M c G u i r e (1985), for the source attractiveness model to be effective, the source o f the  7  information must be familiar, likable and or similar to consumers. Brooks and Harris (1998) explain "familiarity, likability, and similarity" i n this way: Exposure o f the athlete through the media provides the familiarity component, likability depends upon physical attractiveness and behavior, and similarity requires that the consumer identify with the athlete in some manner. Thus, i f we were to select an athlete to endorse a product, we would choose one who had wide exposure, one who was similar to the target market, and one whom the target market found attractive. According to M c G u i r e ' s model, this athlete would be a persuasive endorser for the product or brands (p. 41). The source credibility model (Hoviand & Weiss, 1951) also rests on research i n social psychology. It points out that the criteria for selecting an effective endorser depends upon the assumption that a positive impact on consumption w i l l occur when consumers believe the endorser has expertise regarding the product and when they believe the endorser is trustworthy. Although the source credibility and the source attractiveness models have been proved valid to some degree (Ohanian, 1990), McCracken (1989) criticized both models. According to McCracken, both source models overemphasize celebrities and neglect their correlation with products. This prevents us from understanding w h y some celebrity endorsements fail to sell products. For example, the source models cannot explain Friedman's finding that some product categories were not compatible with celebrity categories. Second, the models do not provide sufficient evidence for us to distinguish the differences o f appeal between different celebrities. In another words, the source models ignore the "cultural meanings" that make a celebrity attractive or credible. Based  8  on his criticism o f the source models and his model o f meaning movement i n consumer culture (McCracken, 1988), M c C r a c k e n (1989) developed the "meaning transfer" model to explain the celebrity endorsement process. According to the "meaning transfer" model, the meanings that constitute the celebrity world are diverse and plentiful, and hence it is an oversimplification to use only dimensions o f credibility or attractiveness to explain the efficacy o f the celebrity endorsement. Rather than being credible or attractive, each celebrity is a unique combination representing distinguishable social and individual characteristics as McCracken (1989) suggests: "The effectiveness o f the endorser depends, i n part, upon the meanings he or she brings to the endorsement process.. .Distinctions o f status, class, gender, and age, as well as personality and lifestyle types, are represented i n the pool o f available celebrities, putting an extraordinarily various and subtle pallet o f meanings at the disposal o f the marketing system," (p. 312) These considerations provide a whole picture o f the celebrity as an "interconnected set o f meanings" (p. 313). Each cultural category may be reflected b y certain subjects. For example, according to McCracken, Pierce Brosnan represents a classical and new wealthy man; maleness is embodied by Sylvester Stallone while femaleness by L o n i Anderson; the man o f wisdom is represented by D a v i d Brinkley, and so forth. When studying a celebrity, however, we should focus on the whole range o f meanings rather than only one o f these dimensions itself. For example, M c C r a c k e n noted that it was the combination o f Cher's "hip, risk taking, irreverent, and liberated," (p. 313) persona that contributed to her successful endorsement o f consumer products. Furthermore,  9  McCracken's model emphasizes that v i a the endorsement, celebrities help to complete a process that transfers meaning from the culturally constituted world (McCracken, 1986) to the consumer i n three steps. In the first step, the multiple roles o f celebrities endow them with particular meanings i n themselves. In the second step, meanings are transferred from the celebrities to the products v i a advertising and the endorsement process such that the products gain similar meanings as the celebrities; and i n the third step, consumers acquire these meanings by purchasing and using the advertised products. During the whole process, the celebrity endorsement and related advertising and media appearance o f the celebrity are the vehicles through which the meanings are transferred. According to McCracken, an effective endorsement ties the product to the meanings o f the celebrity i n a "successful transfer o f meaning": James Garner's endorsement o f M a z d a succeeds when a transfer takes place between his persona and the M a z d a line. It succeeds when the qualities o f maturity, Americanness, confidence, good humor, and a certain kind o f maleness are made the qualities o f the M a z d a vehicle. The endorsement succeeds, i n other words, when the properties o f the man are made the properties o f the car (p. 313). McCracken's "meanings transfer" model provides a theoretical foundation to explain the marketing popularity o f Y a o M i n g . Although Wang Zhizhi, the first Chinese basketball player to play in the N B A , was also a focus o f the media and an attractive celebrity, he was not a marketing success. Similarly, Mengke Batere, the second N B A Chinese player who played for the Spurs when they w o n the championship i n the 20022003 season, was not successful even though he was also regarded as credible to endorse sports products such as athletic shoes and apparel. What contributes to such different  10  marketing profiles for Y a o and the other two who have apparently similar backgrounds? What contributes to Y a o ' s distinct appeal to consumers and therefore to marketers as opposed to other N B A players? The "meaning transfer" model offers a possible approach to answer these questions. I assume that Y a o is able to bring distinguishable "cultural meanings" which are "compelling" and "useful" to consumers. W i t h these meanings he appears to have a positive impact on consumption o f the products he speaks for. A n examination o f how consumers interpret his persona and his depictions i n commercials w i l l help to explain his unique appeal and success as an endorser. Media, Audience, and the Encoding/Decoding M o d e l H a l l (1973) developed an encoding/decoding model i n an attempt to account for the processes o f media production and active consumption. According to H a l l , the process o f communication must be seen as a whole, with "the moment o f programme making at one end and the moment o f audience reception at the other" (p. 17). In spite o f the correlation o f the two ends, H a l l argued that the process o f encoding and decoding was not perfectly symmetrical i n that producers had varied significance o f contexts to select from whereas readers had interrogative and expansive practices. The interconnection between them was contested. That is to say, viewers were seen to bring reflective frameworks to the messages and thus the encoded message was not necessarily decoded i n correspondence to its producer's intentions (Hall, 1973, i n Moores, 1993). H a l l identified "preferred" readings as those cases i n which dominant cultural signs were interpreted b y readers in accordance with the intention o f the encoder. Those readings that reflected the basic premise o f the preferred readings, but were restricted i n some  11  ways, were "negotiated readings," while those readings that decoded messages in a contrary way were "oppositional". D a v i d M o r l e y ' s (1980) The "Nationwide"  Audience, a study o f a B B C news and  current affairs show was regarded as "a landmark i n the development o f critical media theory and research" (Moores, 1993, p. 22). This research focused particularly on the context o f media consumption, media genre, and viewer-media text interactions. B y using ethnographic research methods, M o r l e y (1980) confirmed H a l l ' s proposition that audiences were "active" recipients o f encoded meanings and identities, while previous research was restricted to theorizing the impact o f the media power o f "passive" recipients. For instance, the film journal Screen, i n the 1970s, ignored the audiences' reflexivity i n constructing meaning. According to Screen theory, spectators were positioned by the texts and manipulated with transparent encoded meanings (Morley, 1980). Confined by H a l l ' s categories o f preferred, negotiated, and oppositional readings, M o r l e y felt that audience research should be drawn up exclusively for the purpose o f measuring whether audiences agree, or disagree, or partly agree with encoded propositions o f the text. It was required for audience research to link social placing within discursive and institutional social places, as he summarized i n his study: W e cannot analyse communications separately from... the structures and divisions o f the social formation. O n the other hand, we must attempt to avoid a crude sociological reductionism which would take these factors to determine decoding practices i n a mechanistic way (e.g. all working class people, as a direct result o f their class position, w i l l decode messages i n manner X ) . . . we need to investigate  12  the ways i n which structural factors are articulated through discursive processes. (Morley, 1981, a: 56. c.f. Moores, 1993, p. 21-22) M o r l e y ' s acknowledgement o f genre variation led to his plan for a reformulated reception ethnography after the Nationwide Study. O n this basis, researchers had to distinguish how different media material attracts different cultural groups i n the first place, and go beyond the preferred, negotiated and oppositional readings adopted by selected readers when presented with a single text (Moores, 1993). B y translating our concerns from the framework o f the decoding model into that o f genre theory, we may be able to develop a model o f text-audience relations which is more flexible, and o f wider application... it would involve us in dealing more with the relevance/irrelevance and comprehension/incomprehension dimensions o f decoding rather than being directly concerned with the acceptance or rejection o f substantive ideological themes. (Morley, 1981, b: 10. c.f. Moores, 1993, p 30) Based on audience theory and previous research, a study framework for audience research can be drawn up, consisting o f questions such as "who likes what?", "why do they like it?", and "how is what they like valued?" (Moores, 1993) Another challenge o f media reception analysis discussed by M o r l e y was how to create a "natural" setting for studying groups. M o r l e y noted that for audience research, the context provided for interviewing groups should not be too artificial, because reading the media is "routinely done i n the private sphere" (Moores, 1993) such that an educational or work situation may raise differences. H e further suggested that future research o f media consumption be conducted i n a household environment.  13  In this research I attempted to study Y a o ' s fame and media audiences using natural settings. The distinct genre I focused on were Y a o ' s commercials. The population was Chinese young adults who had been attending university i n Vancouver for 1-4 years. Related Studies Cultural Meanings and Celebrity Endorsement Several studies that have focused on the cultural meanings o f celebrities have conceptualized celebrities as "cultural icons". The concept o f an " i c o n " refers to a celebrity who is recognized as a cultural signifier, and emphasizes his or her social role i n leading cultural trends, fashion, or style. A s Jones and Schumann (2000) state: Great athletes, because o f their prominence i n our society, tend to play many different roles. They are not viewed simply as sports entertainers, but are often expected to engender strong values and morals that conform to societal and cultural norms, (p. 65) In this way, celebrities convey cultural meanings and values that potentially link to their endorsement process, which i n turn affects consumer purchasing. Michael Jordan has been written about extensively and was a very successful celebrity endorser. H e has been described as a "pre-eminent figure" (Kellner, 1996, p. 460) i n the spectacle o f media culture and a "well-established" (Wilson and Sparks, 1996, p. 399) brand pitchman i n North America. According to Kellner (1996), Jordan is an embodiment o f almost all the positive features o f America. O n the one hand, as a distinguishable basketball player, he signifies "grace, coordination, virtuosity, and allaround s k i l l " (p. 460); on the other hand, as a natural person, he symbolizes the social values o f "hard work, competitiveness, ambition, and success" (p. 324). These meanings  14  contribute to Jordan's persuasiveness as an endorser. Other than being a national hero and the symbol o f America inside the country, Jordan disseminates American culture externally to other countries. A study done b y Andrews, Carrington, Jackson, and M a z u r (1996) scrutinizes the implications o f Jordan's image and the ways it is constructed i n local culture, when international media and marketing programs invade N e w Zealand, Poland, and Great Britain. For example, i n N e w Zealand, Jordan's image is pervasive through satellite television, commercials and the corroborative presence o f N i k e ' s promotions, and N B A programs. American cultural signs o f "glamour, wealth, and overt commercialism" (p. 439) communicated by Jordan can be interpreted by N e w Zealand university students from Jordan. In Poland, Jordan was interpreted b y youth as demonstrating the "American way o f life" (p. 445), while, i n Britain, his image was seen to express Blackness and Americanness. W h i l e these studies emphasize the power o f the media context to shape celebrities' images and the impact o f such images on culture, another study b y Hoecke, Hoecke, Knop, and Taks (1999) examined how the cultural meanings o f the celebrity contribute to the effectiveness o f the endorsement. U s i n g surveys and interviews, Hoecke et al. examined the attitudes o f consumers toward Vincent Rousseau, a nationally wellknown athlete. In their study, they found that "a feeling o f patriotism" (p. 23) cohered around Rousseau among the general public and they described the implications o f the endorsements and the cultural meanings he conveyed. Vincent Rousseau was a Belgian top-class long distance runner (marathon world champion i n 1993) sponsored by Nike. They characterized the public image o f Vincent Rousseau as follows:  15  In general, Rousseau was described as a talented athlete (85.1%) who is praised for his perseverance (88.8%) and his simplicity (82.2%). Despite the low score for physical attractiveness (18.2%), more than half o f the respondents (55.0%) perceive this man as friendly and trustworthy. O n the other hand, almost half o f the respondents (46.1%) stated Rousseau to be conservative, a characteristic which may be not i n line with what N i k e likes to carry. This may be an indication that N i k e ' s objectives to sponsor Rousseau may be less image-oriented, notwithstanding the fact that his "real athlete image" does match N i k e ' s image, (p. 26) In addition, they found that 93.7% o f 140 interviewees correctly identified the sponsorship between N i k e and Rousseau. O n the one hand, these findings indicated that overall Rousseau contributes to enhancing N i k e ' s name to some extent, though he is not physically attractive. O n the other hand, contrary to interviewees' perceptions o f N i k e as "modern," "fancy," "young," and "expensive" (p. 27), one o f Rousseau's characteristics - "conservative" did not transfer to the product he speaks for, so his contribution to building N i k e ' s image is "rather moderate" (Hoecke et al., 1999). Their study contributes to research on celebrity endorsement i n two ways. First, it provides an approach to assess the effectiveness o f the celebrity endorsement which examines the cultural meanings interpreted by consumers from the endorser's image. Second, it draws the conclusion that the categories o f meanings o f the celebrity may not all be perfectly consistent with the brand he or she endorses. These findings from a practical perspective indicated that studying the cultural meanings o f an endorser's image is very important. Audience Interpretation and Race  16  W i l s o n and Sparks' (1996) paper "It's gotta be the shoes": youth, race, and sneaker commercials is an important basis for m y study. W h i l e previous studies at the time underlined the "control" and "power" o f television on consumers, they emphasized the diversification in interpreting the media among different racial groups. B y interviewing Black and non-Black Canadian youths in focus groups, they were able to examine how the youth reacted differently to the portrayal o f Blacks i n apparel commercials. They found that a well-established celebrity such as Michael Jordan possessed "cultural power" i n influencing the consumption o f Black youth. For non-black groups, however, such power was not as evident. Meanwhile the "symbolic power" among Black youth resulted i n "style-copying" in the groups, while this tendency in the other groups was not as emphasized. These findings indicated that the youths' interpretations o f the commercial messages, as a genre, varied according to their membership i n different "interpretive communities" that were shaped b y their racial experience, even though they were all basketball enthusiasts and enjoyed consuming basketball programming on television. More importantly, their study not only demonstrated how the audiences interpreted the commercials but also provided a new perspective on text- and audiencebased research which supported M o r l e y ' s (1980) genre theory that audience research should consider readers located in distinct social locations, occupational status, and races, and so forth. In their study, the distinct genre was television commercials o f athletic apparels that portrayed Black celebrities and the audience segments were two racially distinct "interpretive communities". The "interpretive communities" consisted o f 15- to 19-year-old Black and non-Black male youths who routinely watched basketball  17  programs on television. These members were recruited from the same schools and typically were friends, the Black youth from Toronto, a city with a significant Black population and the non-Black youth from Vancouver, a city where the participants had little experience with Blacks. W i t h this recruitment strategy, members i n these two racially circumscribed "interpretive communities" had backgrounds that respectively comprised similar "cultural experiences, social location, and interests" (p. 409). Similarly located members o f the focus groups interpreted the media i n similar ways. Thus the use o f the concept "interpretive community" i n their research provided a foundation for helping to make sense o f the interaction among the participants, social locations, interests, and "interpretive strategies". Their findings o f how different groups interpret the media i n different ways and their use o f the "interpretive communities" forms the basis for m y study. Following their example, the choice o f targeted focus groups for m y study emphasizes racial identity, in m y case, within the Chinese community. Rather than examining the different reactions to the same endorsement between different audiences, m y study w i l l attempt to figure out meanings o f the same image portrayed i n different cultural contexts and the interpretation from a single "interpretive community". Using the conception o f "interpretive communities", it would make sense that interpretation o f cultural meanings o f Y a o ' s image i n commercials would be similar for members o f groups that are "similarly located". Postman, Nystrom, Strate, and Weingartner (1988) indicate that culture is a shared system o f values by a group o f people who do things i n a similar way. A l s o , they suggest that such shared meaning depends on the media through which meaning may be shared. M c C r a c k e n (1989) indicates that different consumers are constantly seeking  18  goods with useful meanings relating to their access to social meanings and cultural principles within the content o f consumer culture. H i s "meaning transfer" model posits that cultural distinctions o f celebrities are transferred to goods v i a the media, and such distinctions form the useful meanings that various consumers seek. O n this basis, different groups are likely to interpret a celebrity such as Y a o i n different ways. Chinese characteristics logically endow Y a o ' s image with special features, and he represents a mixture o f Chinese conventions and novel trends. In the eyes o f westerners, he might be an oriental gentleman with the characteristics o f traditional Chinese; from the standpoint of Chinese, on the other hand, his image may signify contemporary culture and consumer fads. A s an N B A player, his image may also convey exotic meaning such as competitiveness, newness, and westernness, new meanings that are coveted by some Chinese young adults. Still, whether any cultural barriers with respect to racism or nationalism exist in his image as portrayed i n Chinese and western commercials is worthy o f examining. B y studying Chinese young adults' interpretations o f his endorsements, and particularly by assessing the meanings that this group give to his various portrayals especially in Chinese and western cultural environments, a developing picture can be drawn concerning the scope o f cultural meanings and interpretations, which w i l l help to inform the meaning o f international celebrity athletes i n different national contexts. Jones and Schumann (2000) examined racial images i n advertisements in Sports Illustrated magazine (SI) from 1995 to 1998. SI is regarded as a leader i n sports print journalism in the United States and images o f Caucasian and African-American athletes  19  predominate i n its stories with the result that other races do not get equivalent coverage. The same was true o f advertising: The appearance o f A s i a n and Hispanic athletes is almost nonexistent, particularly in the early years o f SI. In all cases where an ad contained numerous athletes and mixed race groups, only two racial groups were represented, Caucasian and African-American athletes. In other words, African-American athletes, although sometimes used alone in advertising, also appeared i n a large proportion o f the ads where a Caucasian athlete was also present, (p.70) These findings indicate an over-emphasis on Caucasian and African-American athletes i n SI. However, the globalization o f sports marketing calls for a better understanding o f how athletes o f other races including Japanese, Chinese, and Indian are performing in the international sports market. This study on Yao, therefore, w i l l make a contribution to an understanding o f Chinese sports culture and its relationship to consumer culture. Research on Sports Marketing and Celebrity Endorsement i n China This study necessarily involves considerations o f Chinese sports marketing, celebrity endorsement, and culture, including the characteristics o f young adults i n China. Each perspective w i l l be discussed i n this section. While related research is limited i n China, the shortage o f research increases the significance o f this study. Sports Marketing in China Academic and practical research on sports marketing i n China is still i n its infancy. The primary reason for this is that sport was previously considered as part o f governmental programs and has only started to become open to market forces during the last 10 years. W h i l e celebrity endorsements have emerged during this time along with the  20  development o f the advertising industry, research on celebrity athlete endorsements are neither extensive nor profound. Still, several researchers have made important contributions i n this area. Geng, Burton, and Blakemore (2002) define the present time as a transition period through which sport i n China is transiting from "an Olympic-driven m o d e l " to "a marketing-driven model" (p. 32). In their study, they disclose differences i n sports culture between China and the West. It is understandable that the sport-centered ideas practiced i n China for many years may be unfamiliar to practitioners i n the West. W i n n i n g Olympic events, combined with serving China with glory, have long been the outstanding value defining Chinese sport culture. When Western corporations become involved in sponsoring Chinese athletic events and properties, their capitalistic attitudes (i.e. economic profit motives) conflict with China's distinct socialism (i.e. social profit motives). Sport organizations view sponsorship as an external resource to add to the value o f Olympic success. Western corporations traditionally have seen sponsorship as a marketing vehicle to differentiate brands or organizations (p. 28). This kind o f sport culture influences not only the sports industry but also the public recognition o f the industry, and thus partially contributes to the understanding o f celebrity athlete endorsement. U n l i k e most companies i n North A m e r i c a which tend to hire professional sport athletes to pitch their brands, most companies i n China favor using Olympic gold medallists for endorsing their products (Tschang, 2003). For instance, Coca-Cola C o . paid millions o f dollars to hire F u M i n g x i a , a three time Olympic diving champion who is nicknamed "diving queen", as spokeswoman for its Sprite soft drink  21  campaign i n 2000. Moreover, these Olympic champions are recognized as heroes and have been emerging into the market o f branding. The female table tennis player Deng Yaping and female soccer player Sun Wen, nicknamed " M r . Football," (sic) have become icons i n China. Deng has set up her own firm, Dengyaping Sports Goods Co., to promote sportswear and table tennis equipment (Schlevogt, 2000, p. 57) The philosophy o f most companies i n hiring an Olympic hero is to pursue the "Olympic Halo effect." This overemphasis on glory, however, has resulted in the occasional misuse o f celebrity athletes. For an instance, L i u Xuan, a teenaged Olympic female gymnastics champion once spoke for "Liuyang River", an alcohol brand. Neither traditional nor contemporary Chinese women are i n the habit o f drinking. The only link between these two subjects is the tradition o f drinking alcohol to celebrate. The Y a o M i n g phenomenon provides a good opportunity to study Chinese celebrity athlete endorsements. H e is one o f the most significant representatives o f the "transition" period i n Chinese sports and symbolizes the change from a state-owned to a marketing oriented system and from amateur to professional sport. F o r example, Y a o ' s participation i n the N B A is a milestone for Chinese basketball that opens the gate to the world o f marketing. " Y a o ' s team" o f agents is the first professional group serving a Chinese athlete. This team consists o f M B A and sports management professors and students from University o f Chicago who are experts i n sport business and systematically analyze Y a o ' s market trends and tailor promotional tactics for him. Celebrity and Endorsement  22  The book Celebrity and Advertising written by Dabin L i u (2000) delineates the use o f celebrity endorsement i n China. In this book, he generalizes the predominant reasons that resulted i n the win-loss o f several celebrity endorsements and points out traditional cultural perceptions that govern a majority o f consumers' sense o f advertising. Values such as being "patriotic, responsible, loyal, brave, faithful, sincere, modest, and courteous" have been long recognized as unparalleled virtues, and as a result endorsements that have embodied these features have had positive impacts on consumption (Liu, 2000, p. 99). F o r example, Jackie Chan, a famous H o l l y w o o d action movie star, is believed to be brave, patriotic, proud, humorous, and modest; when B B K , a D V D manufacturer hired him, these meanings were transferred to the product and the endorsement was so successful that the sales o f B B K saw a large increase (Liu, 2000 p. 80). While L i u ' s study examined mass consumers' perception o f celebrity endorsement, Zhang and Shavitt (2003) developed their research to focus on an 18-35 year old segment. Their findings indicate that "modernity" and "individualism" are positioned and promoted in the advertisements o f the products targeting Chinese GenXers and that the approach is consistent with the cultural values respected by this group. These findings may imply that young Chinese consumers have distinct appreciations o f celebrity endorsement. However, because they conducted their research b y using content analysis o f advertisements i n newspapers, magazines, and on television, their conclusions only reflect advertisers' marketing strategies and expectations. The reaction o f audiences still needs further study. Chinese Y o u n g Adults  23  The reason w h y m y study focuses on Chinese young adults who are 18 to 25 years old is that this is the group for whom "cultural change is likely to be the most rapid and i n which cultural expressions deviate more from those o f mainstream C h i n a " (Zhang and Shavitt, 2003). Some scholars classify this demographic group as part o f the X Generation. For example, an article i n Time Asia (2000) refers to Gen-Xers as those who were born between 1965-1982. Others identify this age group as the Y-Generation. For example, L i (2000), a member o f the legislative council i n H o n g K o n g , regards those who were born after 1980 as part o f the Y-Generation. Regardless o f the different names used to describe this demographic group, scholars generally agree on the traits shared by this age cohort. L i (2000) describes several features: They are generally able to speak English and use information technology, as w e l l as being at ease i n a competitive multi-cultural environment. B o r n after 1980, they are still at school and university and with biggest impact on marketing as the children o f baby boomers have enormous financial clout... First generation to grow up i n a multi-cultural country making them more at ease with peers o f different ethnicity. Technically adept, they are creating a global generation through their access to mass media and communication tools such as the Internet. Plenty o f time to pursue their career goals - they are in no hurry. Their motto 'Don't stress' ( L i , 2000) Another article posted at the official website o f the Chinese Embassy Nepal (2004) portrays this new generation i n another way: These postmodern people are mostly pragmatic, creative, strongly independent, self-reliant, and hard-working. They want desperately to believe i n something, but  24  have come to distrust almost everything the modern world has deemed important. Traditional notions o f knowledge and learning are disdained and exotics are followed. These features document several reasons w h y I have selected Chinese youth as the object o f m y study. First, they have an extensive exposure to mass media and advertising which influences their cultural conceptions (Zhang & Shavitt, 2003). Second, with the impact o f so-called foreign culture 'exotics', they are becoming more culturally adapted to the combination o f China and the West (Ong, 1998; Zhang & Shavitt, 2003). "Exotic culture" i n Chinese refers to the meanings from outside China (such as from western countries) and does not specify certain meaning. Third, they are bilingual, highly educated, and they are the future o f China (Time A s i a , 2000; L i , 2000; Zhang & Shavitt, 2003).  25  CHAPTER 3 METHODOLOGY This chapter summarizes how the study was designed and the two research methodologies that were used. The interpretive analysis component o f the study was undertaken to provide a summary o f Y a o ' s representations i n advertising endorsements. From this component, a representative selection o f commercials was identified for the audience response portion o f the study that focused on how groups o f Chinese youth interpret the cultural meaning o f Y a o ' s image. The focus groups allowed a free conversation o f the audience and provided insight into the attitudes o f the members towards Y a o M i n g and his endorsements. The research was carried out i n two steps. Considerations o f feasibility, availability o f evidence, ethics and potential study obstacles w i l l be discussed relating to the following two phases o f m y research Phase #1 - Interpretive Analysis o f Y a o ' s Endorsements Leiss, K l i n e , and Jhally (1990) described interpretive analysis as a method used to depict and explain the content o f advertisements. Advertising carries two levels o f messages: "informational" messages which describe the characteristics o f the products, and "transformational" messages that attempt to change the attitudes o f consumers toward brands, consumption, lifestyles, and so on. The "informational" messages are visible on the surface o f the text; the "transformational" messages are buried i n the structure o f the advertisements and discovering these messages requires a diligent search. Although "transferable messages play a more subtle role i n an ad, they are very important because they reflect consumers' social distinctions such as gender, honour, power, and  26  those factors that M c C r a c k e n (1989) regarded as "cultural meanings". Interpretive analysis helps one to understand what an advertisement is about and the kind o f influence it may exert on different people. In this way, it is a method which complements audience interpretations o f a message. According to Leiss, K l i n e , and Jhally (1990), interpretive analysis allows one to study the "social cues" which penetrate the circulation o f messages between persons and objects and thus provides insight towards, and a better understanding of, the advertisement. Using interpretive analysis, Leiss, K l i n e , and Jhally (1990) demonstrated that visual advertisements could associate an unfamiliar activity with a familiar activity or social role. For example, an advertisement directed towards a female audience suggests that adding lead to gasoline is like a mother adding grated cheese to macaroni. They also demonstrated that advertising might not only bring new products to consumers, but also associate the products with consumer lifestyles. For example, an advertisement may suggest that a refined design leads to a more refined lifestyle. Such an advertisement may appeal to a consumer who wishes to give the impression o f being o f a higher social standing. Leiss, K l i n e , and Jhally (1990) also suggested that interpretive analysis o f advertising could help us better understand the consumer culture. They noted that media and advertising played roles in managing symbols and meanings o f consumer culture, because media-based messages convey information about products and create meanings which may shape consumption patterns and peoples' sense o f satisfaction. The goal o f interpretive analysis is to understand the communication dynamics and meanings o f media texts. For example, in Myths, Men, & Beer, Postman, Nystrom,  27  Strate, and Weingartner (1988) analyzed 40 beer commercials for 15 brands and identified 14 distinct themes and narrative strategies in the commercials. The purpose o f their research was to examine the cultural meanings o f beer commercials and to estimate their effects on audiences. For m y study, by describing the narratives and themes for different advertisements for Y a o M i n g , I wanted to be able to account for how his identity was constituted and positioned. This would also provide a general idea about the cultural meanings o f each ad that could be gained from examining the interplay o f its visual and aural components, and would assist i n identifying a representative selection o f the ads for use in the focus groups. When doing interpretive analysis, the researcher ends up relying on his/her own judgement about the cultural meaning o f the texts, in this case, advertisements. Interpretive analysis can range in complexity from highly detailed assessments o f the communication structure and form o f texts to broader description o f their contents and narrative. In order to avoid overemphasizing m y own opinion, I elected to use a broad descriptive approach and to rely on the audience understandings o f Y a o M i n g ' s image i n order to provide a more detailed and nuanced analysis o f the meanings o f the ads. M y analysis followed Leiss, K l i n e and Jhally's (1990) approach o f providing a description o f the ad's content that was sensitive to the social context and broad meaning o f the ads. Phase #2 - Focus Groups The use o f focus groups i n audience and cultural research is based on the understanding that this method can gain direct, natural, and interactive data from the dialogue o f a homogenous group, as Kitzinger (2001) states:  28  "Group discussion is particularly appropriate when the interviewer has a series o f open-ended questions and wishes to encourage research participants to explore the issues o f importance to them i n their own vocabulary, generating their own questions and pursuing their own priorities.. .also helps researchers tap into the many different forms o f communication that people use i n day-to-day interaction, including jokes, anecdotes, teasing and arguing." (p. 21) Neither survey methodology nor one-to-one interviews can generate group-related information o f an equal quality as focus groups. Some scholars have also noted that more critical comments can b y generated by group work than b y interviews (Kitzinger, 2001; Watts & Ebbutt, 1987). Focus group methods construct a comfortable setting so that participants can freely communicate. During "inter-personal communication" (Kitzinger, 2001), contradictions between the media and the audience can easily be exposed. A l s o , for audience research, "creative" and "reflexive" attitudes can be collected within a group setting. W h e n media texts, such as the selected commercials featuring Y a o , are shown to a focus group, a variety o f discussions from a broad range o f perspectives can be developed. W i t h appropriate moderator direction, the participants can be encouraged to talk about potentially awkward subjects that are hard to reach i n one-to-one interviews (Kitzinger, 1994). Such creativity and reflexivity enable the researcher to gather 'natural' opinions and information (Ffammersley & Atkinson 1995). Content o f the Focus Group Guide (Appendix C ) The goal o f a focus group guide is to give the focus group moderator a set o f ordered and broadly stated topics to be used i n directing conversation and discussions.  29  The design o f focus group guide generally follows an "iterative" method which allows for progressive changes as more information is learned from focus group sessions over time. The focus group guide to this study was based on W i l s o n and Sparks' (1996) research on youth responses to commercials. Questions taken from their study were supplemented b y specific questions about the comparison between Y a o M i n g and other Chinese celebrities. The goal o f these topics was to motivate conversation relating to the study questions. The Commercial V i e w i n g Questionnaire (Appendix D) According to Morgan (1988), questionnaire research and focus group research are complementary sources and this allows initial, individual data to be augmented b y data resulting from group interaction. A commercial viewing questionnaire was adapted from W i l s o n and Sparks (1996) to enrich the focus group data. The participants completed the questionnaire before the discussion portion so that this information was not influenced by the group interaction. A l s o , the participants' interests i n the topics o f this study were measured with the questionnaire. Sampling Strategy The sampling strategy was to recruit approximately 25-30 Chinese international students aged 1 8 - 2 5 year old who were studying in Vancouver. The goal was to develop 4-5 focus groups as it was felt that this number would achieve saturation the point at which nothing new would be learned b y holding further groups. The recruitment criteria was that all participants should share similar interests i n Y a o as determined by two criteria: 1) whether they had watched an N B A game in the last year, because Y a o was playing i n the game, or 2) whether they had visited a website to read news about Y a o in  30  the last year (see appendix 2). Each focus group was intended to be a m i x o f male and female students. Initially, the reasons for this mixture were: 1) A s friends, they would be free to bring either male or female friends, 2) News reports indicated that Chinese females have similar interests i n Y a o M i n g as Chinese males, 3) more importantly, this could provide an opportunity for the researcher to learn about and compare any differences between males and females when they interpret Y a o ' s image. According to Statistics Canada (2001) the Chinese population i n Vancouver is 342,665 which makes it the biggest visible minority community in the city. The population is not homogenous, however, and two Chinese could speak very different languages ("Cantonese" or "Mandarin") and have distinct cultural backgrounds. From this consideration, the criteria to select the sample in this study were a) Mandarin and English speaking, b) from mainland China, c) university students, d) aged 18 to 25, and e) interested i n Y a o M i n g . W i t h such criteria, sufficient homogeneity was structured into the groups so that they would be able to freely discuss Y a o M i n g . It was found i n previous research that a homogeneous group provides participants a more comfortable setting socially for directed interaction to take place (Morgan, 1988; W i l s o n & Sparks 1996). The decision to focus on 18 - 25 year olds is in line with previous findings that this segment is representative o f Chinese youth who have lived through the switch from traditional to modern Chinese culture and the impact o f exotic culture. They are also prime targets o f the mass media (Zhang & Shavitt, 2003) and "frequently a target market for products that use athletes for endorsements" (Martin, 1996). The number o f focus groups was based on Kitzinger's suggestion that numbers o f focus groups could vary according to the purpose o f the project and available resources,  31  but that even "a few groups" could draw effective conclusions. A l s o , W i l s o n and Sparks (1996) and Morgan (1988) suggest that "3 to 4 groups are usually necessary for research attempting to find a groups' perspective i n a 'relatively structured' manner with a homogenous population." (Wilson & Sparks, p. 411) W i l s o n and Sparks (1996) founded that 3 Black and 4 no-Black focus groups were sufficient for cataloguing differences i n these two communities. O n this basis, I decided that 5 focus groups o f 4-6 individuals with a single population (Chinese young adults) were sufficient. The number o f participants per group was set at 4-6 persons who are familiar with one another. This again was in-keeping with W i l s o n and Sparks (1996) and Morgan (1988) who suggested using a small group to facilitate dialogue. Kitzinger also suggests that a group o f 4 to 8 people is an ideal size. Smaller groups allow for more involvement by a l l participants and allow the researcher to more easily draw and control each individual's attention. Jhally and L e w i s ' (1992) study o f audience responses to The Cosby Show and W i l s o n and Sparks' (1996) study o f youth interpretations o f the portrayal o f Black celebrity athletes in athletic apparel commercials used a maximum o f 8 people who were familiar with one another i n the group. B y using people who know one another, the small group strategy avoids awkward conversation with unfamiliar participants. Recruiting Method Based on the method used by Jhally and Lewis (1992), a 'contacts and personal acquaintances' approach (cf. W i l s o n and Sparks 1996 p.412) to make the group homogeneous, this study recruited members from a student organization that had regular meetings and activities. The organization was located in Vancouver with approximately  32  200 members who were studying or working at the University o f British Columbia or Simon Fraser University. The association frequently organized events and activities so as to enrich the members' lives i n Vancouver; therefore, the members either were classmates, neighbours, team players, or colleagues, or were acquaintances. The researcher had access to the organizations. First, he himself is a member o f the organization. After he participated i n several events he knew that there were 18-25 year old international student members i n the association. Second, during the last year, the researcher worked as the representative o f a company that sponsored Chinese N e w Year Galas for the association and thus had built a good relationship with the chairman and staff. Several individual staff members also showed their interests i n the topic o f Y a o M i n g . There was also a basketball club in the association, and this increased the opportunities to recruit participants interested in basketball and Y a o M i n g . Two methods was identified for recruiting group members at the same time: 1. Method A . Focus groups were scheduled as a workshop o f the association and an advertisement (see Appendix F) was posted on the organization's official website for a week. This method was ultimately unsuccessful, because there were no responses to the ad after one week. 2.  Method B . The study adopted the "snowball" method (Wilson and Sparks 1996). The researcher talked with the president o f the association and he was very enthusiastic to help recruit participants.  Data Collection Considerations o f running focus groups included the settings, the time, the facilitator, and the content o f the sessions (Morgan, 1988; Kitzinger, 2001). The focus  33  group sesssions were all conducted i n the homes o f participants, i n order to make the participants feel comfortable. (Kitzinger, 2001). Participants sat i n a semi-circle so that everyone was able to watch the commercials and this arrangement helped establish a good atmosphere for discussion (Kitzinger, 2001, p. 25). The duration o f the sessions was limited to 1 to 1.5 hours. Kitzinger (2001) W i l s o n and Sparks (1996), and Morgan (1988) refer to this as a reasonable period o f time for participants to dedicate, and "not so long that attention would waive from the topic" (Wilson and Sparks, 1996). The period o f time over which sessions were conducted was one week (June 30, 2004 - July 8, 2004) and a session was conducted every other day. with one day for conducting the session and one day for editing the data. This arrangement was very effective for transcribing the data from the group interviews, because it minimized confusing what happened i n one session with another. The researcher was the facilitator o f the focus group sessions. The main reason for this decision was that the researcher had a similar background as the participants who were from mainland China, and he speaks English and Mandarin so that participants felt very comfortable i n inviting h i m to their family and talking. A second reason was that as a member and having appeared at previous events, the researcher was acquainted to some extent with the participants and this added a familiar atmosphere to the discussion. A third reason was that the researcher was acquainted with the topic and had experience (I had experience organizing staff and clients meetings when I worked as an assistant manager o f a hotel in China.) and with guiding the conversation o f Chinese groups. A limitation might be that the researcher may bring his own attitudes to the discussion o f Y a o because o f the researcher's racial background and interests. In order to avoid this  34  potential bias, the researcher was careful not to address his personal attitude toward the topic and insured that his age was out o f the range o f the population being studied so that he did not represent the target group. Keeping this in mind, the researcher avoided using his own personal ideas to influence the focus group respondents. The sessions were conducted using a focus group guide (see appendix C ) , i n order to optimize use o f the time spent, and to better direct and encourage discussion. The session started by welcoming the participants and introducing the topic o f the study. Participants were advised they were under "no obligation to answer, participate, or continue participating". The researcher then described the structure o f the session before the ads viewing segment o f the discussion. After completing the ads viewing portion and filling out the questionnaire, the focus group discussion began. This part o f the session started with general discussion (see appendix C) about what each participant saw during the commercials and which commercials they "liked most" and "liked least" (Wilson and Sparks, 1996). The participants were encouraged to refer to the commercial viewing questionnaire (see appendix E ) . In this way, the conversation began with individual thoughts, but under direction. W i t h the researcher's direction and probing, this led to discussions about the more specific topic areas outlined i n the interview guide. The focus group guide (appendix C ) and the commercial viewing questionnaire (appendix E) were very effective i n managing and directing discussions o f the focus group. In sessions, some participants were very active to state their thinkings but others were quiet. In order to avoid the situation where "quiet" participants always agreed with active ones, the researcher specifically asked the "quiet" participants questions listed i n  35  the interview guide or viewing questionnaire such as "What meanings does Y a o M i n g symbolize? Please use some specific words to describe these meanings" and "What do you like most about this commercial?" B y doing this, everyone was encouraged to provide his or her own opinion i n the discussions. A l l sessions were audio-taped and observational data were written i n field notes. The disadvantage o f recording was that it was time-consuming to transcribe, but the advantages o f audio recording was the emphasis on the field sense and that the researcher could get a permanent record o f the discussion very conveniently with a portable recorder (Hammersley, & Atkinson, 1995). O n this basis, when collecting the information, this study combined field-notes o f participants' behaviour and audio-recording o f their conversation. A l l the data records were transcribed into a computer file according to their chronology immediately after the sessions were finished. Later, the transcription and field notes were catalogued and analyzed. This was in accordance with Hammersley and Atkinson's (1995) suggestion: (Transcription) enables the scientific worker to break up his subject-matter, so as to isolate and examine at his leisure its various component parts, and to recombine the facts when they have been thus released from all accustomed categories, in new and experimental groupings. (Webb & Webb, 1932, p. 83; c f . Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995, p. 193) Limitations Potential problems o f using focus group methods include how to ensure full participation (Belgrave, Zablotsky, & Guadagno, 2002), the potential chaos o f the conversation (Wilson & Sparks, 1996; Morgan, 1988) and mutual influence among  36  participants (Belgrave, 2002; W i l s o n and Sparks, 1996; Morgan, 1988; M a d r i z , 1988). T w o methods were used i n this study to encourage attendance: one was a gift o f two "free" long distance phone cards to participants; the other was the "snowball effect" which can bring together friends and people sharing the same interests. F o r the second issue "potential chaos", an interview guide did help guide the sessions and enabled the researcher to stay focused on the topic and research purpose. Regarding the third issue, "mutual influence" (the participants would support others but not their own individual feelings, because o f group pressure) (Wilson & Sparks, 1996) this study used a questionnaire (Appendix E) that was filled out after viewing the commercials and before discussion, and the participants were encouraged to use their own answers i n their own discussion. Morgan's (1988) and W i l s o n and Sparks' research indicates that people are more likely to insist on what they have written down. Ethics The proposed study received ethics approval from the University o f British Columbia behavioural Sciences Screening Committee for Research Involving Human Subjects. (Appendix G)  37  CHAPTER 4 RESULTS AND ANALYSES This chapter discusses the research process and findings from the interpretive analysis and focus groups. In the first portion, the advertisements viewed b y the participants are described and interpreted (the process used i n this analysis is described). The second portion categorizes findings from the focus groups into 5 sections and discusses each section i n detail. Interpretive Analysis In order to provide appropriate commercials for audience-viewing, I searched commercials that portrayal Y a o M i n g ' s image and stored them with Windows M e d i a Audio/Video format in m y computer. Watching these commercials with Windows M e d i a Player, I interpreted their contents and described the ads. A total o f 10 corporations with 11 well-known brands including V i s a , Apple, Uperdeck, Pepsi (Pepsi-Cola and Gatorade), Reebok, Torrent, M c D o n a l d , N i k e , China U n i c o m , and Sohu.com, have signed contracts with Y a o since he joined the N B A (Nike's contract actually was signed before he joined and expired in October 2003). The methods used to obtain possible commercials that portray Y a o M i n g were checking the official websites o f the N B A , the sponsors, and Y a o M i n g (www.yaoming.net) and conducting a Google search using the phrase " Y a o M i n g commercials". Seven commercials o f sponsors including V i s a , Apple, Gatorade and Pepsi-Cola (China), and China U n i c o m (two) as w e l l as o f the N B A , and one billboard advertisement o f S o h u . c o m were found and stored. For the rest o f the sponsors, I sent a letter to each company on M a y 24 2004 to ask for the commercials for research purposes but I have not received any responses  38  since then. This might be because I only did one mail-out and with no follow-up when I requested the ads from these companies. Based on the product categories as w e l l as the content o f the advertisements o f these sponsors, the target segments o f these brands appear to be young adults. From this standpoint, it is appropriate to focus this research on young adults' interpretations o f Y a o in these commercials. The following are descriptions o f the commercials. Apple Power B o o k (Big and Small): the scene takes place on a plane. Y a o M i n g ends up sitting next to Verne Troyer, the 2-foot, 8-inch actor most famous for playing M i n i - M e i n the Austin Powers series. Y a o brings out a 12-inch screen Apple power book, and Verne brings out a 17-inch power book. Both Y a o and Vern eye each other's machines enviously. V i s a (Super B o w l ad): the scene is i n a N e w Y o r k souvenir store. Y a o asks i f he can write a check for the souvenir he wants to buy. The cashier girl says " Y o , " and points towards the "No checks" sign. "Yao," says Y a o , thinking she's mispronounced his name. She then calls the manager. ("Yo!") The exchange repeats. Confused, Y a o finally leaves the store. In the final scene, Y o g i Berra pops up i n the store and also fails to grasp the meaning o f "Yo"—"Yogi," he says. Gatorade: the scene is at the home o f a young boy. Famous sports players come to his front door asking his mother i f "Jimmy can come out and play". First is Y a o M i n g who asks i f Jimmy can play basketball with him. Then Derek Jeter and then Peyton Manning follow. Pepsi-Cola China (Inspiration): there are 2 different scenes, one with Y a o M i n g playing basketball and the other with a famous music performer playing keyboards. The rhythm  39  o f Y a o ' s basketball dribbling gives inspiration to the musician to compose a lively song. The composer then abruptly ends the song and this makes Y a o miss his shot. The final scene shows that Y a o M i n g finishes his Pepsi and crushes the can. The musician's empty Pepsi can crushes by itself and he lets out a big unexpected burp. N B A (I Love this Game): the scene starts off with Y a o M i n g performing Tai C h i in front of some people. This scene then alternates with highlights o f Y a o ' s performance i n N B A games. In one o f the last scenes, a mascot who is following Y a o ' s T a i C h i , loses his balance and falls. The scene ends with Y a o tossing a towel over his shoulder and saying I love this game. In these commercials, story telling is the main form o f communication and Y a o M i n g is used to deliver messages. These commercials were later displayed to and discussed by focus groups i n phase #2. Because outdoor advertising was not included as a genre in this study, a billboard advertisement for Sohu.com was not used. There were two reasons for selecting these 5 commercials as the viewing sample. First, the focus group interview would be too long i f more than 5 commercials were used. Second, a sample o f at least 2 Chinese and western commercials, was necessary i n order to check for cultural differences. Focus Group Finding A total o f 26 participants were recruited, including 18 males and 8 females. One male participant left for an appointment during an interview session, but otherwise all group members participated for the entire session. Appendix A (Focus Groups Participants) shows the participants' ages, the number o f months they have stayed in Vancouver, and how many participants were i n each interview group. The sessions were  40  conducted i n Mandarin, and transcriptions were first i n Mandarin and then were translated into English. Some expressions were difficult to translate. F o r example, a feeling that was described as "shuang!" i n Mandarin was very difficult to translate into English. The researcher consulted a Chinese woman who has lived i n Canada for 11 years and she thought that "yeah!" was close although it did not 100% percent reflect the same feeling. Focus group sessions were tape-recorded and immediately transcribed to 5 files related to each focus group session. These files were stored on the researcher's computer. U s i n g Microsoft Word, the researcher listed the answers to each question in the discussion portion o f the interview guide and identified thematic similarities and differences. In the meantime, participants' attitudes that were not related to the questions were also listed and compared. B y comparing and analyzing the transcripts, similarities and differences were identified and finally, categorized. Findings from the focus group are summarized in 5 sections that encompass (1) Y a o M i n g ' s positive image, (2) the benefits o f Y a o M i n g ' s image for the products he endorsed, (3) the special nature o f the participants, (4) the differences between male and female participants' interpretations o f Y a o M i n g , and (5) media influences on Y a o M i n g and the participants. The first section catalogues the meanings obtained from Y a o M i n g ' s image on three levels. First level meanings were general meanings that a celebrity possesses, second level meanings were his uniqueness that makes h i m different from others, and third level meanings were an intensive feeling o f nationalism that derived, in part, from the special nature o f the participants and how they identified with Y a o . The second section notes that Y a o M i n g ' s image has a positive impact on all products he endorsed, although the extent o f the impact varies by participants and the products. The  41  third discusses how the special nature o f the participants' location and social status as Chinese students i n Canada contributes to their understandings o f Y a o M i n g ' s image. The fourth describes how the attitudes towards Y a o M i n g between male and female participants were somewhat different even while all were positive. The final section describes how the media have influenced the participants' interpretations o f Y a o M i n g ' s image. In quotes o f group dialogues, M l , M 2 . . .refers to male participants and F l , F 2 . . . refers to female participants. 1. " T o Most Chinese, H e Is V e r y Excellent, A V e r y Good Image": The Meanings Obtained F r o m Y a o M i n g A r e A l l Positive Themes emerged from discussion surrounding Y a o M i n g ' s positive and heroic image in the commercials. Attitudes o f Chinese young adults towards Y a o M i n g were positive, although they were not completely satisfied with a l l the commercials. The meanings interpreted by participants can be broken down into three levels. The first level is a composite o f the positive meanings that the majority o f celebrity athletes usually have, including "cool, famous, successful, powerful, actively performing, skillful, and self-confident". A t the second level, Y a o M i n g ' s physical appearance o f being " b i g " and his unique personality that most other celebrities do not have, together with his cultural background, contribute to his distinctness. These meanings include "healthy, enthusiastic, kind, gentle, simple and honest, humorous, and modest". A t the third level, Y a o M i n g is a symbol o f China, representing "the Great W a l l , " "China," "Chinese," as w e l l as " A s i a " to the sports industry and to the world. K e y phrases that emerged i n the discussions were that " Y a o M i n g is a celebrity athlete," " H e is a unique celebrity," and " H e represents China". Although few o f the participants mentioned that Y a o M i n g might not have a  42  higher education background, participants consistently agreed that this would not have a negative impact on Y a o M i n g ' s image, because it is normal for the majority o f Chinese athletes. In contrast with a higher-educated person, his lack o f higher education even improves his image to some extent. The following three sub-sections summarize these three levels o f the meanings regarding Y a o M i n g and the contrast between his education and his positive personality traits. i . " H e Is Powerful, Self-confident A n d Successful." Usually, we describe celebrity athletes as leaders i n their sports. The meanings achieved b y Y a o M i n g share these characteristics o f celebrity hood. W h i l e Y a o M i n g ' s actual performance on the court was not perfect, participants frequently used terms such as "top player" or "the best" to describe h i m and were confident about his future. A consistency that emerged within the group sessions is that Y a o M i n g has proved his potential and power on the basketball court and that he has succeeded i n his personal life. Stated i n terms o f traditional jargon i n China, Y a o M i n g is "a very good example worthwhile to study" and stated in modern terms, he is "an i d o l " o f the youth generation in China. The participants described Y a o M i n g as an embodiment o f a lot o f valuable personality features. They found that Y a o M i n g had many strengths and that even i n the brief scenes i n the commercials they could relate to his image. Discussion of (the N B A " I love this game") (Group 1) M l : H e ' s the best basketball player; I can feel his power when he is shooting and slam dunking the ball. H e passed the defences very skilfully; this's kind o f "using soft to beat hard" [ M 2 nods and responds] it's just the quintessence o f Tai C h i . Shaq is the strongest in the N B A and Y a o M i n g is not as strong as Shaq, but he's the only person can fight with h i m . . .He knows how to use his strength to beat others' weakness, and he is good at taking this advantage  43  [ M l continues] yeah, the best players always know how to take advantage o f their strengths, like Jordan... (all about praises o f him), though Y a o M i n g might not be able to do those, he can use his height to keep h i m i n a good situation [ M 2 continues] he also made a very b i g progress and this's very quick. See the time he plays i n the court becomes longer than before, and his slam dunks increase and become harder and harder. I can imagine what w i l l happen in the future, no one can prevent h i m from slam dunking [ M l nods and says] yes, I can imagine too [he pretends to slam dunk, smiles, and grunts] go away, Shaq! Discussion of (the G a t o r a d e "Is it i n you") (Group2) M 5 : H e pulls down the hoop when he's dunking the ball, I can sense the power. H e succeeds i n improving his skills, [when speaking, he pretends slam dunking] he's a very good basketball player. [M6 responds] .. .Yao M i n g here is the most important, because he first comes.. .He is young, "young" is the hope o f tomorrow and young man has more energy than other ages' people. [ M 5 continues] it also indicates that Y a o M i n g is at least as famous as the other two athletes, though he is new to the N B A and the media. [M6 continues] I think he is even more famous than the other two, at least among Chinese, otherwise you would know them, right? [M5 nods and second continues] and he is big, the biggest i n the commercial. i i . "He Is Healthy! Not Every Celebrity Has This Healthy..." Discussions relating to Y a o M i n g ' s unique image and personality emphasized that not only was he a celebrity, but he also had characteristics that distinguished h i m from other celebrities. H i s most attractive and unique feature was his "huge" physical size and another was his "healthiness". Based on a common word "healthy" (in Chinese, the word 'healthy' is usually used to describe a person's body i n positive terms; also, it is used to describe a person's good spirit) which is also used to describe most celebrity athletes, Y a o M i n g ' s distinction was broadly explored and two deeper significances o f "healthy"  44  were found through the discussion. One deeper significance derives from a belief in the change in the stereotype that " i f a Chinese man is big he is awkward or with illness". That is, Y a o M i n g is big but healthy. The other deeper significance related to the concept of "healthy" is that not only Y a o M i n g ' s physical image, but also his spirit is healthy. Not every celebrity has this deeper level o f the "healthy". These two deeper connotations also contribute to Y a o M i n g ' s uniqueness. Discussion of (Apple, "the Big and the Small") ( G r o u p l ) F l : his arm was so long that he picked up his computer from the upper baggage shelf without standing up, I believe no one can do that. A very b i g man but very healthy image, ['healthy' M 2 and M 4 repeat and seems that they just get a word to describe Y a o M i n g and develop their dialog about 'health'] [M4 responds] yes, healthy! I've been thinking to find a perfect word like this. H e is healthy, unlike other Chinese basketball player, they are tall but elephantine. Usually, a very tall Chinese man or women has disease or at least looks like having something wrong, but Y a o M i n g is not, he looks like a very normal person. [M2 responds] I used not to watch Chinese basketball and not like China M e n ' s Basketball team, do you know why? Because we always lost the game.. .He is a hope, the future o f our team (Chinese M e n ' s Basketball) w i l l be promising. [M3 smiles and responds] I didn't like watching them (China M e n ' s Basketball) too, it was too boring. Y a o M i n g brings fresh air to the team, he saved China Basketball. Y a o M i n g proves that we can play (basketball) very w e l l . . . (he laughs and some sparkles flash i n his eyes then he continues) There w i l l be a lot o f Chinese players in the N B A , maybe, even some day, all Chinese control the games. Discussion of (Gatorade "Is it in you") (Group3) M 7 : when I see h i m slam dunking, I think this is a miracle. W e all have been expected a Chinese basketball player can slam dunk like this. I heard that there was a Chinese basketball player, he was the tallest at his time, oh, what's his name? [M8 smiles and responds] M u Tiezhu.  45  [M7 continues] yes, but he could not jump not to mention slam dunking, [he pretends elephantine dripping and shooting] [M8 continues] sure, there was a lot o f shame with bulk men i n China. They reacted and moved slowly, they looked very big but were always related to unhealthy, I mean usually had some illness, and we called them "Sha Dage" (Foolish Big), because most o f them grew unbalanced In addition o f the impression o f his big but agile body, his spiritual world also contributes to his "healthy" image. Comparisons made between h i m and other celebrity athletes demonstrated that the audiences' attitudes towards Y a o M i n g were not superficial but deep inside. The comparisons involve both western and Chinese celebrities. Some special characteristics emerged through the comparisons and proved that Y a o M i n g not only changed the stereotype towards " b i g " size Chinese, but also built a total new image for celebrities. Discussion continues (Gatorade "Is it in You") [ M 9 interrupts and leads the topic to another perspective] Remember the next scene, he smiles to the young boy with a little bit embarrassment? Seems that the hoop fell and he made something wrong, his smile is very humble, looks like a big boy smiling to his best friend. [M8 smiles and responds] yeah. I remember that, and he says "oops!" sounds like he made a small mistake without purpose and he admitted his mistake... [M9 continues] sure! This is so different from the last scene that the football player.. .his saying appears a celebrity's arrogance. [M10 nods and responds] this's very common to a celebrity and this's w h y Y a o M i n g is unique and different from others. Most o f Chinese celebrities are arrogant, he isn't. [M8 & M 9 nod and M 8 responds] not only Chinese celebrities, but also western celebrities (are arrogant).  46  Other than merely interpreting the commercials, participants introduced a lot o f meanings they obtained from the media. These meanings are discussed here to help better understand Y a o M i n g ' s image that was constructed i n the minds o f the audience. Discussion continues (Gatorade "is it in you?") [M10 continues] I think he's healthy image i n this way, not only because his appearance, but also because his humanness. H e did a good job during " S A R S " period i n China, he donated and encouraged the society to struggle the plague together [M8 nods and responds] most N B A players are "big brothers." Everybody (celebrity N B A players) has several rare cars and the huge houses, they spend money wastefully, but Y a o M i n g doesn't like this, his life very simple. [M9 responds] .. .Yao M i n g has become the actual center o f the team and the most important during the games, but he still can think o f the team and sacrifice his own benefits. [M10 continues] sure, this is so-called "humble" o f a person, and as somebody says he brings fresh air to the N B A . I appreciate people's 'humble' [sic], especially o f those who are famous. [ M 7 continues] and Y a o M i n g is pure.. .this's uneasy for a celebrity. When a person becomes famous and rich, they w i l l always forget to control themselves and likely to make mistakes, see K o b e these days.. .Yao M i n g is healthier than others, he can control himself with clear-headed. [M9 continues] ... see those Chinese pop singers, once they all were used to be very famous but are notorious now, because o f their uncontrolled behaviours. [M7 continues] yes, the modest, the simple and honest, and the pure make h i m different from other celebrities. Discussion (Visa Super Bowl) (Group3) M 7 : H e looks very kindly, when he's asking the clerk, he appears gentleness and patience. [M8 nods and responds] yes, Y a o M i n g is a gentleman, his image is very shinning, he's modest and even a bit quiet. But, when he does speak he always seems to say something funny, witty, or intelligent. Therefore, you always want to hear more.  47  [ M 9 responds] I think so, when he responds to the media or his teammates, he is very humorous, his attitude and demeanor are very different from most pro athletes and people i n general, and this is very remarkable at his age. H e seems like a genuine "good" guy or gentle giant and on top o f that the guy can flat out play, this is the reason w h y his coach, teammates, and agents enjoy working with h i m very much. [M8 responds] V e r y few Chinese celebrities have humour, especially for athletes, because they know how to play but don't know how to deal with the media and the camera. Y a o M i n g shows his intelligence not only when he's playing, but also before the camera, when he's in the commercials. In order to examine distinct cultural meanings o f Y a o M i n g , discussions involved the comparison between Y a o M i n g and the other two Chinese basketball players W a n g Zhizhi and Barter who also play i n the N B A . Their backgrounds are similar, because they all played for the China National Team and for the China National Basketball Association ( C N B A ) . However, most participants could immediately identify differences between these players and Y a o and they all emphasized such differences rather than focusing on their similar backgrounds. The comparisons commenced with the question about whether W a n g or Barter could be substitute for Y a o M i n g i n these commercials. Every respondents said no and explained that either their physical appearance or personalities and either their expertise o f basketball or their social behavior were different. When comparing Y a o M i n g and few Chinese celebrity actors including Jackie Chan and Jack L i , his image was also unique and positive. Discussion of (the N B A " I love this game") (Group4) M i l : the situation would be different i f Daba (Barter's Chinese nick name) i n here. H e is very strong and looks too hard, so how come he leads the group to playing T a i - C h i , i t ' l l be inconsistent i f he's in. Y a o M i n g ' s body isn't like h i m and his face looks a little  48  soft than Daba's so that it looks very smooth when he leads to playing T a i - C h i (in N B A commercial). [M12 nods and smiles] actually Daba's face looks not like a Chinese, i f he's in, few people would know this is in China [ M i l & M l 2 nod and smile] [ M i l continues] it's true that Bartere is the first one who gets the Championship R i n g o f the N B A , and W a n g Zhizhi is the first Chinese player came to the N B A , but Y a o M i n g is playing better than them, you can't see the other two playing or it's very rare to see them i n the games, i f using the other two in the Gatorade, I don't think their slam-dunking would be as good as Y a o M i n g ' s . [ M l 2 continues] not only their skill are different, but their reputation are different. Once W a n g Zhizhi became the focus o f the media, when he was selected by the N B A , but his reputation quickly went down. [ M l 1 responds] yes, I know this, because he didn't go back to serve for China National Team. H e only considers himself, this's a kind o f selfish. Y a o M i n g is not, soon after his playing at the N B A seasons, he go back to China and begun his training program, he is not selfish, he still play for Chinese National Basketball, he cares about China. [ M l 3 continues] Y a o M i n g does also consider the society, I think his image is the best among these three. [ M l 2 continues] Y a o M i n g ' s the only perfect one fit with M i n i M e i n Apple, the other two are not as big as h i m and then the comparison would not be that apparent. [ M i l second continues] Y e s Jack Chan and Jack L i are very famous but that are not that big, [all participants smile] how come they fit to i n these commercials? A n d how come they slam dunk? With KongFu? [all laugh] [M13 responds] i f they're in, y o u ' l l think they're acting and it's not real, but Y a o M i n g isn't an actor, so it's very true when you see the commercials i i i . "I Feel Comfortable, I A m Proud O f H i m , A n d When I Saw H i m In The Commercials Or N B A Games. Whatever. The Feeling Is So Great Just L i k e "Yeah!": Chinese Nationalism  49  A respondent made the above statement during the discussion portion o f a session. When he stated this, the other three nodded and agreed with their thumbs up and this statement gained consistent confirmation and evoked participants' praise o f Y a o M i n g . While this session was characterized by their pride i n a national hero, the other sessions also demonstrated intense feelings o f nationalism. A l s o , the feeling that Y a o M i n g is a Chinese national hero with international prestige guided the focus groups to discuss the third level o f the meanings they obtained from Y a o M i n g . This feeling went throughout the sessions from the beginning to the end and emphasized that Y a o M i n g is a "Chinese". Every respondent recognized that Y a o M i n g symbolized " C h i n a " and "Chinese", he represents the virtue o f Chinese, and he is one o f the idols o f young adults. The recognition that Y a o M i n g symbolizes China and Chinese people was consistently accepted by all focus groups. This symbolization was not merely a part o f Y a o M i n g ' s personality, but a combination o f several aspects o f his broader persona including his name, his facial appearance, his posture, his thin body, his modest smile, and his perseverance. The following statements were typically made by most respondents within all groups. Discussion of (the N B A " I love this game") (Group4) M l 4 : this is really good, I like it very much. In that commercial, Y a o M i n g is leading the group to playing T a i - C h i and other western people are all following him. H e is a 'Chinese' and T a i - C h i is one o f the most popular and traditional sport item i n China. These two character represent China, Chinese, and oriental culture. I like the feeling that a Chinese leading others... [M15 & M 1 6 smile and nod] [M14 continues] U h . . .1 am not sure i f all others are westerns and even don't pay attention to them, I don't care, but I know one thing that Y a o M i n g is standing i n the front and he is the leader. (The actual background i n the video was a little blurred so that it was difficult to distinguish who stood behind Y a o M i n g and  50  followed h i m playing T a i - C h i . Only a few o f those followers can be identified as western people.) [ M l 5 nods and pretends Tai-Chi] He is the only Asian person for N B A commercial. This is very rare, most o f others are all American (referring to N B A commercials o f "I love this game") [ M l 6 smiles and pretends Tai-Chi too] Both Y a o M i n g and T a i - C h i are oriental symbols. They make me remember A s i a and our country. The commercial impresses me that the N B A does not only belong to American, but also belong to Chinese. Discussion of (Apple "The Big And The Small") (Group5) M 1 7 : his looking and smile are typical Chinese style, his modesty i n the basketball court reflects Chinese virtue. [ M l 8 smiles and responds] he also reflects Chinese wisdom, Chinese invented the earliest computer - abacus, right? [others all smile] and a Chinese man uses the Apple, others must use Apple, right? [all smile] Discussion of (Gatorade Is it in you) F8: when he's asking i f J i m m y can play, his characteristics is extreme Chinese style, kindly and polite. Discussion of (Visa Super Bowl) (Group2) M 5 : It's so great, I love it. To be honest, I can't totally understand what the commercial is talking about, but I think it's about a Chinese tourist shopping i n the U . S . Y a o M i n g is the biggest and tallest i n all the scenes, and when he's holding the Statue o f Liberty i n his hand, the feeling is so great. [M6 one with doubt eyes] is it the Statue o f Liberty? I didn't realize that, I just think it's a souvenir, [M5 continues] Y a o M i n g is a Chinese and the Statue o f Liberty symbolizes the U . S . A m e r i c a is i n a Chinese hand. See, we can handle America. [This comment gained a lot o f favorable laughter; the other three all agreed and looked refreshly. M 6 responses] the cashier, the manger, and the other two customers are all looking up to Y a o M i n g . H e is big and tall, China is big too. [M5 responds] he is the first Chinese who attend the N B A A l l Star game and with a big volume o f votes, this breaks the N B A record i n history. This feeling is so  51  great. A s m y dad told me he got the same feeling when China gained the first gold medal i n Olympics.. .1 can remember the A l l Star game, when Y a o M i n g running out, I heard the applauses through out the whole court, the feeling is excellent, he brings honor to Chinese While not all o f the participants have feelings o f patriotism as deep as these respondents, the fact that Y a o M i n g is "Chinese" was frequently mentioned i n all the group sessions. The respondents described Y a o M i n g ' s image as oriental i n both the western and Chinese commercials and no distinctly western messages were gained from Yao M i n g ' s image in these commercials. The meanings were positive and supported by these respondents. These findings demonstrated that Y a o M i n g delivered the messages that can at least draw attention from Chinese audiences. That is, Chinese audiences would have interest i n watching a commercial with Y a o M i n g . W h e n the discussion related to the question o f whether there are differences in using a western celebrity in the commercial, answers were affirmative. The respondents indicated that pervasive western celebrities cannot draw their attentions but it is different i f Y a o M i n g is i n the commercial. (Group 1) F l : It doesn't make sense to me ( i f a black or white athlete were substituted for Y a o M i n g i n the commercial). There is no correlation between a white or a black star and us. F2: H e ' s a Chinese, so I can get some native feeling from the commercial. If I saw a normal commercial with the white or the black athletes i n the T V , I would switch the channel to watch other programs, but i f Y a o M i n g was i n the commercial, I would watch it and at least say 'see a Chinese'. M 2 : 1 couldn't get much feelings from those commercials (portrayals o f white or black athletes), because it is very common as what they (commercials) usually did (in north America).  52  [the other three nod and M l responds] yes, I feel the same way. A very tall Chinese guy stands among western people, this is really attractive. M 3 : 1 w i l l watch that i f there is a Chinese in a commercial, but sometimes it is hard to distinguish a Chinese, Korean, or Japanese i n the commercial. Y a o M i n g is unique, I can recognize h i m at once. M l : Even his name, ' Y a o M i n g ' is easy to call. M y local friends can say these two characters very clearly, it's heard that N B A fans all can call his Chinese name. 2. "I Went To Apple Shop After I Saw That Commercial": Y a o M i n g ' s Impacts O n The Products H e Endorses A r e Positive The discussions generally shared that the participants thought Y a o M i n g had a positive impact on the products he endorsed. The extent o f this varied among participants, with some showing more interest in the products Y a o M i n g endorsed than others and describing how the endorsement actually influenced their purchases. Others noted that Y a o M i n g possessed meanings and status that could improve the image o f the products, though they had not yet consumed the products. The participants discussed most o f the products endorsed b y Y a o M i n g regardless o f whether the commercials were viewed or not through the sessions. A l s o , the participants discussed whether Y a o M i n g fit with other products besides those he endorsed. "See, What's This?" Either on purpose or by coincidence, one participant took a product Y a o M i n g endorsed along with h i m and showed it i n the session. This action resulted i n a lot o f discussion and demonstrated peoples' loyalty to the products Y a o M i n g endorses. The following quotes show that Y a o M i n g has positive impacts on the image o f the products and the consumption o f the product.  53  Discussion of (Gatorade "Is it in you") (Group4) M l 1:1 never know "is it i n you?" before, but now, when I drink it during the games, it (the slogan) sometimes can emerge i n my mind. [ M l 2 looks like getting something and continues] yes, I got the same feeling, but the difference is the colorful sweat on Y a o M i n g ' s forehead, [he points on his forehead and pretends to wipe up the sweat from his forehead] See! what's this! [when saying, he opens his bag and takes out a bottle o f green Gatorade] I ' l l go to play basketball after our conversation [ M l 1 smiles and responds] you're very loyal, but it's good for you. H o w about your teammates, are they drinking Gatorade too? [ M l 2 responds] sometimes, not everybody, but I like it and take one every time. It's really helpful.. .one day I can pull down the hoop [he pretends slam dunking] [ M l 3 seems to be very eager to say] hey, do you think so [he asks M i l and gets the answer "yes" from him] I never seen this commercial before, you know I don't have T V , but I wanna try it now. Discussion of (Apple "the Big and the Small") M 5 : This made a deep impression on m y mind. Y a o M i n g is so big but he is using a small notebook, this is very impressive. When I saw h i m using the Apple power book, I thought this must be suitable for me. [M6 nods and smiles] sure it's really impressive... he and M i n i M e represents different segments o f consumers. Y a o M i n g ' s distinction—his large size reflects that Apple can satisfy different requirements. [M5 respondent nods and continues] absolutely right. I wanted to buy an Apple after watching this commercial so I went to the shop to try it, just like what they are i n the commercial, the design, the quality and everything, I also tried the one that Y a o M i n g uses i n the commercial, the 14 inches power-book, it was very cute. Unfortunately, [he smiles] the price was too high, I can't afford it at the moment, and so I had to hold m y idea. But i f I have enough money i n the future, I w i l l buy an Apple for sure. Not all the participants said that they purchased these three products only because of the commercials, and some o f the participants had purchased the other two products  54  V i s a credit card and Pepsi-Cola, because o f Y a o M i n g featured in the commercial. However, the participants confirmed that he brings positive messages to the products and that they were likely to consume them i n the future. Discussion of (Pepsi-Cola China) (Group4) M 1 4 : To be honest, I haven't drunk Pepsi-Cola because o f this commercial, or it's hard to see, because I've never seen it before, but I really like this commercial. F o r me, there's no big difference between Coke and Pepsi, I buy when which is on sale [he smiles], I must say I ' l l be able to remember this commercial and Y a o M i n g when I go shopping and see Pepsi-Cola. Maybe, I ' l l think about it. [ M l 5 responds] I've not seen this either, but I know it from the news through the Internet, I like it, do you know these two persons didn't see each other when the commercial was done. I think Y a o M i n g reflects the "young" o f Pepsi, because Coke is older than Pepsi, and I remember that you can find Coke most places, but not so many stores sell Pepsi in China, because it went to China later than did Coke (this is true, but Pepsi tried to increase its coverage i n stores as much as Coke, and it hires a lot o f Chinese pop stars as spokespersons) [then he smiles] but I first drunk Coke in China and later favored its taste. Pepsi's taste is a little different [ M l 6 responds] yes, I think their tastes are different, actually I like Coke the same reason as you - first drinking Coke, but I ' l l probably try more Pepsi because Y a o M i n g likes it, and this is the first time I see this commercial. Discussion of (Visa Super Bowl) ( G r o u p l ) M l : I don't totally understand the commercial [smiles with a little embarrassment] [ M 2 smiles and responds] neither do I. [ M l continues] Seems that Y a o M i n g can't buy the souvenir without V i s a card, but w h y doesn't he get one i f the credit card is so important to h i m . I ' m a little confused, i f it says Y a o M i n g using V i s a , I would think, but any way, it seems that the V i s a is "bigger" than Y a o M i n g [ M 2 nods and continues] sure a little confused. To m y point o f view, even Y a o M i n g , such a famous and important celebrity can't shop without V i s a , not to  55  mention us very common people, [he laughs and continues] hurry up! Get your V i s a credit card [the participants all are laughing]. "I W o u l d L i k e To See Y a o M i n g A s McDonalds U n c l e . . . " In addition to the five products featured i n the commercials that were viewed through the sessions, discussions also involved other products endorsed b y Y a o M i n g including McDonalds, Reebok, Sohu.com, and China Unicom. Although not every one really showed brand loyalty and the tendency to purchase these products, the participants all confirmed that Y a o M i n g ' s image has positive impact on the products and the meanings from him matched most o f these products. These matched meanings included all three levels o f cultural meanings discussed i n the first section involving his physical image, his distinctness, and nationalism. Still, his " b i g " size, his "health", and his symbolizing China were significant features and attracted a lot o f attention from respondents. When they discussed these, the conversations were always able to smoothly develop i n each focus group and the topics seemed to be endless. However, the other products he endorsed such as Uperdeck and Sorrent were ignored by all participants. [It is a coincidence that F5 and M 1 0 in Group3 state that Y a o M i n g can represent McDonalds] [F5 responds] H e ' s no problem for fast food. I can imagine that he is acting as the McDonalds Uncle (the Mascot) with red hair, very gentle and very kindly delivering meals to kids. Does he speak for McDonalds? [M10 is saying at the same time]The McDonalds Uncle, I can imagine this, his smile perfectly fits to be the McDonalds Uncle. I would like to meet h i m i n McDonalds, and I think kids w i l l love him. [According to their answers to the question whether Y a o M i n g can speak for fast food,  the facilitator further asked them with the question] he's speaking for  McDonalds now, however, we all know that fast food is junk food, do you think it is inconsistent to use Y a o M i n g ' s "healthy image" and the "unhealthy feelings" o f fast food?  56  [F5 quickly responds] it's just because Y a o M i n g gives us a healthy image. In addition, I would like to see h i m acting as the clown with his simple and honest smile i n McDonalds. [M10 also immediately reacts and debates] there're no conflicts between them Y a o M i n g ' s such a healthy image that w i l l be able to add "health" to McDonalds. N o w fast food is trying to change its stereotype from junk food to healthy food, some new food is fresh so Y a o M i n g just can prove M c D o n a l d s ' attempt.[F5 and M 7 nod and smile] [M10 continues] and Y a o M i n g ' s smile is very naive. It'll be a very lovely image i f he's dressing i n the McDonalds Uncle [M8 nods and interrupts] H e is actually delivering meals to kids i n McDonalds somewhere in China. [M10 and F5 are very surprised] really? D i d you see him? [ M 8 answers] no, I know this from the Internet, [in spite o f this answer, the previous M 1 0 and F5 both smile and seem to be very happy about that their expectation is the fact] McDonalds signed an endorsement contract i n February 2004 and Y a o M i n g would be used i n its "I lovin it!" campaign i n China. The discussion disclosed respondents' attitudes toward Y a o M i n g and McDonalds. Although not all o f them had known the relationship between them, the participants could indicate that meanings from Y a o M i n g were consistent with what McDonalds expected. These meanings included his healthy image and his personality traits such as simple and honest, gentle and kindly, as well as his smile. Moreover, the participants described that these characteristics would enable Y a o M i n g to fit i n acting as the Mascot - McDonalds Uncle (this is the nick name o f M c D o n a l d s ' Mascot i n China rather than Ronald McDonald). When the participants questioned whether Y a o M i n g fit with any sports brands, the answers were affirmative. While not every respondent knew the brand that Y a o M i n g  57  endorsed, most o f them would mention either Reebok or Nike. Reebok currently has the endorsement contract with Y a o M i n g while N i k e sponsored h i m before October 2003. Y a o M i n g ' s expertise as an athlete and his size were considered to match with the meanings o f sports brands. (Group 1) F l : I ' m not sure it's Reebok or N i k e , but I remember it's one o f them. Y a o M i n g ' s an athlete and perfect to the sports apparels or shoes. [ M l nods and responds] yes, I would choose the brand he endorsed.. .feet types between Chinese and westerners' are different, ours are little bit wider, so [he smiles] i f the shoes can fit to Y a o M i n g they must be fitting to me. [M2 smiles and responds] Y a o M i n g is speaking for Reebok, I got to know this from the Internet, but I've never seen its commercial. [ F l respondent looks getting a hint and responds] he used to speak for N i k e when he's i n Shanghai Shark, but seems something happened between them, then Reebok came in. [the other two are nodding] [ M 2 respondent continues] actually, I didn't know a lot o f Reebok i n the past, N i k e seems to be the best sports brand in China.. .1 got to know Reebok when I knew that Y a o M i n g spoke for it, i f I need one more shoes, I w i l l be probably trying a pair o f Reebok shoes. (group 2) M 5 : Y a o M i n g is for Reebok, I read the news through the Internet, and he used to speak for Nike. He is so powerful i n the basketball court that he can provide good suggestion on basketball shoes and related products. [M6 nods and responds] Reebok and N i k e both are big name o f sports brands, Y a o M i n g is fitting very well with these brands, all involve sports, all famous, he is sports master, absolutely fitting i n sports products However, when the participants were asked about the Internet and Y a o M i n g , only a few o f them agreed that Y a o M i n g would be able to improve its image. Therefore, the fact that Y a o M i n g was representing Sohu.com, one o f the largest IPOs i n China, was neglected. Respondents doubted whether Y a o M i n g had spoken or would speak for it,  58  because they thought that there were too few links between them. A l s o , the participants ignored that Y a o M i n g spoke for China Unicom, a telecommunication company (Group5) M 1 4 : I've no idea about Y a o M i n g and the Internet, but how come he can speak for an Internet brand, is there any relation between them? [ M l 5 states] I don't know either. I don't think Y a o M i n g ' s uniqueness or big size can reflect the feature o f the website, it's no sense for the website to hire h i m , but i f a small website that no one knows hire him, may let people know it soon. [ M l 4 continues] i f there is a relation, I think is the simple. Y a o M i n g doesn't get much education, he is just with elementary or secondary school level [with hesitant tone], Chinese athletes all this level, he can surf the internet, may be because the internet is easy to use [he smiles]. In addition to the brands that Y a o M i n g had already represented, several product categories were discussed according to the match up between Y a o M i n g and the products in the sessions. The respondents had preference for the categories that included vehicles, nutrition food, travel services and so on. (Group 3) M 1 0 : 1 would like to buy the car that Y a o M i n g is driving. [ M 1 0 is very tall and big, though he is not that as tall as Y a o Ming] [ M 7 responses] he is driving B M W in America, a very nice car. [M10 continues] I know, but I can't afford that, I like it very much, not only because it is B M W , but because i f Y a o M i n g can drive it, I must feel comfortable seating i n there. [M7 laughs and continues] I think so, there must be much more space than other cars, I like this too. But I think I can't afford that, i f Y a o M i n g speaks for it, it must be expensive, I guess. F5:I would like to select the airline, i f Y a o M i n g takes it, I mean i f he chooses it. It's so crowd i n the airplane, very uncomfortable for a long trip, from Canada to China, 10 hours flying. [M10 nods and responds] he is big, so the airplane must be very comfortable for us, i f he can sit in it.  59  F 6 : 1 would like to buy the male products for him, i f Y a o M i n g would represent, [she smiles and states, pointing to M 9 seating behind her with her finger, the situation shows that they are a couple] [ Y a ~ , M 7 and M 8 laugh and M 7 responds] what male products? [F6 continues] I mean nutrition food or healthy food products. [M9 seating beside the girl responds] en~, I would use that i f he uses. I am not kidding. H e must eat something different. [M7 responds] sounds reasonable. I guess so, see Chinese men athletes, when they compete i n the games that are very rough, they are not good, so I think the food that Y a o M i n g eats in the U . S . is different from that i n China, otherwise, he can't play for such long time. 3. "I've Been L i v i n g In Vancouver For A Year, I f In China, I M a y Feel Different" The Special Nature O f The Participants The uniqueness o f the identities and circumstances o f the participants emerged from the discussions. The participants were all Chinese international students who had been studying abroad and living i n Vancouver for more than two years, according to the information they provided on the individual biographical survey. In recent years, they had spent most o f their time i n Vancouver, but some had spent one or two months in China during the holidays. Because the cost o f the air ticket was expensive and the time in the air was long they flew to China not so often and hence spent most o f their time i n Vancouver with the feeling o f being far away from home. Frequently, the respondents noted that their feelings towards a Chinese celebrity were intense because they were living abroad and the feelings would be different i f they were i n China. Discussion of (the N B A " I love this game") (Group3) M 7 : it's a little special today, I mean the feeling. I watched this commercial i n China last Spring Festival, I felt interested at that moment, but today am different. It's hard to say, it makes me feel very familiar and close. I don't know why, maybe because I didn't go  60  back to China this Spring Festival, and I even thought i f this commercial could be seen i n North America, it would have a b i g impact. [he continues]Fve been living here more than a year without going back to China, this is the longest time, before, and I went back to China twice a year. It's quite different when I saw a Y a o M i n g i n B i g and Small, actually I watched it thoroughly every time when I saw it, pretty interesting and enjoyable, and I never watched a commercial o f Chinese celebrity so enjoyable like this i n China [F5 smiles and responds] me either. It feels just so so when a Chinese celebrity appears i n commercials on the screen when I was i n China, even a " D a Wan'er" (very famous celebrity). Here is different, when I saw Y a o M i n g i n , I would like to finish it. [M7 continues] sure, same as the movie, I never saw Jack Chan's movie in English, and never thought I would be interested i n it before coming here, but actually it delighted me a lot when I watched T V here. When i n China, i f a foreign celebrity i n Chinese commercials... [F5 smiles and interrupts] it would be very attractive [ M 7 nods and smiles] right! [F6 responds]It has a lot o f fun when watching Y a o M i n g i n commercials here i n Vancouver, as well as today, it's very interesting. It must be different i f I am in China, it doesn't matter for me who is i n commercials or it's less important. I am w i l l i n g to see something with Chinese style or get to know something about China when I am living here. [F5 nods and responds] you're right. I was awake the whole night to wait for watching Chunjiewanhui (Spring Festival Celebration that is hold by China Central Television every N e w Year E V E ) through the Internet this year, because I didn't go back to China, but when I was at home last year, even b y the T V , I'd not much interests. [the others nods and smiles with confirmative impression and M 7 continues] yes, some Chinese movies and series as well, myself and m y friends often take some D V D s o f Chinese series back, we exchange and enjoy those series very much, but we didn't watch those in China  61  [F5 respondent nods and continues] so I am thinking it must be different i f letting me watch these commercials i n China, I would feel it's interesting, but not as intense as when I am here. I must say I enjoy watching these commercials, every time i f one o f them appeared on the screen, I always finished watching it, but for other commercials I always switched to another channel [the others smiles and nods and M 9 responds] me too, I always skipped other commercials. 4. "Boys L i k e Basketball O r Sport, But W e (Girls) L i k e Pop Stars...": Differences i n M a l e and Female Interest In Y a o M i n g . A t least one female participated i n each focus group. This confirmed the validity o f using a mixed gender strategy to recruit participants, since it facilitated participation by allowing prospects to bring either male or female friends to j o i n the group sessions using the snowball method. Because they all were good friends, the female participants were very forthcoming and felt free to express their own opinions and even sometimes they talked more than male participants. Frankly, the female participants' attitudes towards Y a o M i n g were also supportive and they thought that his image was very positive with very similar meanings as male respondents. The meanings they interpreted also included his physical appearance, the distinctness o f his personality, and his being a national hero. Concerning his influence on consumption, female and male respondents were different to some extent as demonstrated i n the following dialogue. Discussion of (Pepsi-Cola) (Groupl) F l : Zhou Jielun! (the musician in Pepsi's commercial, he is from Taiwan and very popular i n main-land China, H o n g K o n g , and Taiwan) [when viewing the commercial, a girl bolts out the name, she smiles and looks very excited] [F2 nods and smiles] W o w ~ , really cool! [male participants turn their heads and stare at them, M l responds] hey, Misses, watch Y a o M i n g , please, [two girls are smiling and look at each other, F l grimaces to M l ]  62  [when discussing the commercial, F l responds] M y favorite is Coke not Pepsi, so I won't buy Pepsi because o f Y a o M i n g , but i f I buy it, maybe because o f Zhou Jielun. [F2 smiles and responses] me too, I like pop star more than celebrity athletes. Zhou Jielun attracts me more than Y a o M i n g i n this commercial, but it's not to say that Y a o M i n g doesn't reflect anything here. I still think Y a o M i n g is very good man and reflects Pepsi-Cola's young and vitality. [ F l continues] I always relate Y a o M i n g to sport or basketball, but I ' d like to go to watch a concert o f singers from China or H o n g K o n g rather than spend money seeing N B A games. Zhou Jielun i n the commercial gives me surprise and happy, the feeling o f Y a o M i n g is just famous athlete. I think Y a o M i n g there represents young and enthusiastic and Zhou Jielun does so either. I must say I can remember the commercial most because o f Zhou Jielun. [Group2, F3 states] I like sport, though I am not exercising very often. I watch most o f sports programs, including soccer, basketball, volleyball, and tennis. [M5 seats besides her smiles and responds] she even watches more sport than me, I usually choose those games between very famous teams, such as Lakers, Nets, and Rockets because o f Y a o M i n g , but she wants to watch every game that was broadcasted [others smiles and nods, look they know this] [F3 continues] I enjoy watching Y a o M i n g in the basketball court; he is the only Chinese man who can play i n the N B A , the other two Wang Z h i z h i and Barter just seating there [she explains]; I must say I was very anxious and angry about Y a o M i n g when he playing, but he's already made a b i g progress, this is very difficult. [M5 smiles add] she was eager to be his coach or h i m i n the basketball court, [the other boys smile and one o f them responds] I did too sometimes [This comment implies that they are not satisfied with Y a o M i n g ' s performance in the court or that they hope Y a o M i n g perform better i n the court.] [F3 continues] he is pretty cool, the hairdo and face shape, a real man! [the other boys smile and look at the boy besides her, he says nothing] H e wins honor o f Chinese and he signs China, a big country [she emphasizes]. H i s personalities are  63  very good too. I'd like to watch his commercials, and for the sports products I may think to use, but others I won't think, he is too big, I am small [she smiles]. On the other hand, I still like pop and movie stars more than athletes. For example Xie Tingfeng, Lu Y i , Wang Fei... [she lists many names of celebrity actors or singers] I must say that I pay more attention to their commercials than athletes' I enjoy watching Yao Ming in the basketball court.. .he is pretty cool... [In Group5, F8 did not talk much during the discussion but she states when the session finishes] Yao Ming is a celebrity athlete, I sometimes had to watch sport programs when I shared an apartment with a boy, but very few now. Today, when I was watching these commercials, I was surprised that Yao Ming has such a lot of partners. One day I watched him in Apple, and I'd like to see it, because very few opportunities to see a Chinese in western ads here, he symbolizes our country and our people, I am proud of him. He is very successful and I think he won honors for Chinese, but I won't buy those products, only because of him, because I am a fan of movie stars or famous singers such as Zhou Jielun in Pepsi-Cola, I will think of Pepsi-Cola, because of him. 5. "He's Very Famous, All The Media Have His News, You Can See His News Everywhere": Perceptions of Yao Ming's Media Exposure Even though the focus group discussions were oriented around Yao Ming's depiction in commercials, a lot of the conversation was about his media exposure. Participants often commented that Yao Ming was a celebrity and was everywhere in the media including television, magazines, newspapers, the Internet and so forth. The high frequency and extensive reach of his exposure would help build brand awareness for the products he endorsed. [Group5, F8 responds] He is too famous and you can't avoid seeing the news about him, everywhere on Chinese websites. [Ml5 responds] Yao Ming is the hottest person in China, and he must be very hot in North America, the media all report his news frequently, he has personal  64  website, and there are also a lot o f his fans who build the fans' websites, so you can get a variety o f the information about h i m from different angles. [ M l 6 responds] absolutely right. Actually, I am not a basketball fan and m y favorite is soccer, I often go to websites to check the information o f soccer, but every time I go to the sports area o f sohu, sina (one o f the three largest Chinese website), or other Chinese website, there's always the latest news about Y a o M i n g pump out [Group4, F7 responds] no one doesn't know Y a o M i n g , he is too famous to be ignored, and his news is everywhere, he is everywhere, today is about his performance in the court, tomorrow is about his girlfriend, and next day is about his family and his life i n America, everywhere, [the others nod and smile] [ M i l responds] it's heard h e ' l l get his biography [ M l 2 responds] I read the book that Y a n g Y i (a journalist who is one o f the best friends o f Y a o M i n g , according to his book) writes through the Internet, it's very interesting, the book talks about his childhood, how did he become successful, his friends and family, he lives as a common person, and some story o f him. [F7 and M i l are surprised and ask him] really, where did you see it, which website [ M l 2 writes down for them] [ G r o u p l , M 4 responds] I here can't watch every game o f Y a o M i n g , so most o f time I go to the web, it's easy to get timely report. Y o u can also read the remark from the reporters, sometimes it's funnier and more interesting than watching the T V , because o f the remark. [ F l responds] I am not interested i n sport very much, but when I check the X i n g W e n (the news about celebrities), actually about the movie stars or pop singers [she explains], there are always something about Y a o M i n g , at least, I read the title and know part o f what happens about h i m , I sometimes read the content and get the details [F2 nods and responds] he's so famous that the media all pay attention to him, I don't watch basketball games, but I know h i m a lot, because there are so many news talking about his personal life, and I'd like to know his personal life more than know his performance i n the basketball court.  65  [Fl girl smiles and responds] yes, we'd like to get to know something about celebrities' life, not only their performance, the media know and provide a lot of these, I bookmark some favorite web of star news and check every week, there are always something interesting about Yao Ming's individual life, his girlfriend is also playing basketball. [when asking to use some words describes the meanings Yao Ming reflects, M l 7 in Group5 responds] he is very famous, so that he can bring the "celebrity effect" to the product [then, the facilitator asks what "celebrity effect" is, M l 7 continues] Yao Ming is very popular, because his name can be seen everywhere in the media, in the sports news, celebrity news, and even the news about some big events such as "Chinese struggling with 'SARS'" and "Chinese distinguish young people". He is everywhere, so when a product has relation with him, more people will know the product, this is a kind of "celebrity effect" The discussions demonstrated that the respondents noticed the high media exposure of Yao Ming. Yao Ming was "everywhere" in the media and this exposure increased awareness of his name. As a result, when the participants interpreted the message from the commercials, they often brought in the ideas gained from the media rather than merely explaining what they saw in the commercials.  66  CHAPTER 5 DISCUSSION This chapter discusses some o f the implications o f the study for related theories, marketing practice and research methodology. The theoretical implication o f the findings are mainly based on the celebrity endorsement and audience research literatures, as foreseen i n the literature reviews. The implications for marketing practice specifically concern Y a o M i n g ' s present popularity i n sports marketing and concern that he could be better used in product endorsements. The implications for research methodology concern the advantages and difficulties o f conducting this kind research and some recommendations for similar research. It is important to note at the outset that the discussion that follows is based on m y best "interpretations" o f the study results, and relies heavily on m y reading o f the "connections between attitudes and perceptions" (Jhally and Lewis, 1992: 9) in the participants' testimony. I discuss the contributions o f these findings with the reservation that I cannot " k n o w " what ideas and understandings the participants derive from television content - or as Jhally and Lewis put it, "we cannot perch inside people's brains" (1992: 9). B y providing a corpus o f relevant data to support m y interpretations, I have allowed for alternate explanations. Theoretical Implications o f Study Results for Celebrity Endorsement Literature Celebrity endorsement research that addresses how celebrities influence the meaning and consumption o f endorsed products generally supports the thesis that celebrities symbolize certain meanings and these meanings have either positive or negative effects on consumers' attitudes towards the endorsed products. When sponsors  67  seek a spokesperson, they consider whether the cultural meanings that the celebrity possesses match the identity o f their brands. Successful sponsors endeavor to appeal to consumers' interests and hire celebrity athletes who have personality traits that match the cultural meanings o f the products. For example, Susman (1984) and Brooks and Harris (1998) have examined how the meanings o f the baseball player Babe Ruth matched those o f Ford i n the 1940's. According to them, Ruth was not only a baseball player, but also a "cultural icon" through which "a mechanized society reflected a rebellion against efforts to rationalize all aspects o f man's (sic) activities" (Brooks & Harris, 1988. p 34). Henry Ford mass-produced cheap, mechanically efficient automobiles for the targets that Ford called "the common man". Ruth was regarded as the "national exaggeration" (Brooks and Harris, 1998; c.f. Susman, p. 146) and his image and character reflected the "style" o f what Henry Ford called "the common man (sic)" just as described b y Brooks and Harris (1998). Stern (1995) provides a contemporary example o f research on the impact o f cultural meanings associated with athletes, in his case, Dennis Rodman, the N B A basketball player. W h i l e to many older and traditional consumers, Rodman had the image of a "bad boy" on the basketball court, he was an endorser for Converse whose target audience was 12- to 18-year-olds. H i s image o f ever-changing hair colour and his on and off-court antics continued to draw this target's attention. According to Stern (1995), the meanings reflected b y Rodman fit into the cultural value o f Converse's consumers: Dennis does what kids admire: he speaks his mind, stays true to himself, doesn't care what others think, isn't artificial, and doesn't suck up. W e adults may  68  classify h i m as a rebel, but I don't think out o f 1,000 kids, y o u ' d ever hear one o f them call him that (p. 47) These studies show that celebrity endorsers represent one way meanings can be transferred to brands (McCracken, 1986; 1989) and that celebrity endorsement can help manage brand identity and influence consumption (Till, 1998). For instance, Babe Ruth delivered the meaning o f "a common man" to the Ford vehicles and Dennis Rodman transferred the meanings o f "rebelliousness and being true to y o u r s e l f to Converse. A l s o , these studies indicate that celebrities' distinctions are useful meanings for those consumers who have positive attitudes towards these personality traits (McCracken, 1989) and these consumers w i l l have more positive attitudes toward the endorsed products (Boyd and Shank, 2004). For example, while Dennis Rodman's image is very controversial, it has useful meanings for those products that kids consume, and kids are positive toward Converse. In other words, the distinctions o f a celebrity may not be useful to certain products or consumer segments. For instance, while Dennis Rodman is an effective endorser o f kids' products, he may not be effective i n speaking for the products o f those consumers who are older or have traditional cultural conceptions. Moreover, these researches indicate that the distinctions o f the celebrity consist i n a combination o f a celebrity's cultural world including, age, social status, personality, gender, physical appearance and so forth (McCracken, 1989). For example, the combination o f the hairdo, rebellion, antics, and speaking style o f Dennis Rodman and the behavior, and interests o f Babe Ruth construct social distinctions that when allied with particular products affected consumption among diverse segments i n different eras.  69  The results o f this thesis research have implications for M c C r a c k e n ' s (1989) work as w i l l as the literature cited above. This study found that the interpretations o f Chinese young adults o f the depicted images o f a Chinese celebrity involved various cultural categories including age, physical appearance, personality traits, gender, lifestyle, professional performance and so on. Respondents described Y a o M i n g as "a big young man" who was a "famous and powerful" basketball player but "humble" "kind", "humorous", and "living simply". This finding helps to illustrate the first step o f McCracken's "meaning transfer" model that an "interconnected set o f meanings" (p. 313) from the culturally constituted world constructs a celebrity's cultural identity. A l s o , the meanings interpreted b y the respondents can be categorized into three levels (Appendix B ) based on their varied experiences o f and feelings toward a Chinese celebrity. This finding expands M c C r a c k e n ' s (1989) "meaning transfer" model to show that the public persona o f a celebrity is the combination o f all the cultural categories manifested i n how people encounter, make sense o f and subsequently communicate the celebrity's meanings to others. A s Appendix B showed, the cultural meanings on the first level are generic meanings most celebrities possess that encompass fame, career success, and achievement or performance. Meanings on the second level are the major portion o f the cultural persona o f a celebrity that makes him/her distinct from most o f the other celebrities. For example, Y a o M i n g is " b i g " and unique with characteristics such as "healthy spirit, humorous, and humble". Meanings on the third level are special feelings o f Chinese young adults towards a Chinese celebrity athlete with regard to "nationalism and patriotism". This finding may contribute to improving our understanding o f the cultural  70  meanings about a celebrity. For example, Babe Ruth and Dennis Rodman are both celebrity athletes with similar meanings on the first level such as being famous, succeeding i n their career, and performing well, but with distinctions related to the second level such as lifestyle and personalities, and special meanings for diverse segments related to the third level such as "a common man" or "a rebel." This study also found that the meanings interpreted by the interviewed Chinese young adults toward a Chinese celebrity were delivered to the products endorsed b y the celebrity. The participants suggested that Y a o M i n g ' s "age" reflected the "youthful image" o f Pepsi, his "wisdom and big size" signified the "intelligence and needs o f different segments" for the Apple notebook, his "healthy image" counteracted the need for McDonalds to improve the quality o f its products and his "pure smile" showed that McDonalds is " k i n d " to kids, his "power" was linked to the "effectiveness" o f Gatorade and his "expertise as an athlete" reflected the "professionalism i n sport" o f Reebok. These findings are consistent with the second stage o f M c C r a c k e n ' s (1989) "meaning transfer" model, that meanings are transferred to the endorsed products v i a commercials or advertisements. Therefore, this finding suggests that the situation o f a Chinese celebrity athlete endorsing a product is very similar to that o f western celebrities. This also suggests that a positive Chinese celebrity athlete can have positive impacts on endorsed products (Boyd & Shank, 2004). While respondents displayed positive and improved brand attitudes for most products Y a o M i n g endorsed, this study also found that the respondents did not change their attitudes toward a couple o f products he spoke for such as Sohu.com and China Unicom. This finding is also consistent with McCracken's (1989) theory that an attractive celebrity is not effective for all product  71  categories, and it indicates that a Chinese celebrity may also be ineffective at endorsing certain products while he or she can be influential for many products. This finding also demonstrates the efficacy o f match-up theory. A s Jones and Schumann (2000) have shown, "congruency" (i.e., "matching up" a product and an endorser) is critical for establishing consistency among messages. Martin (1996) also suggested that i f information about an athlete and his/her sport fits with consumers' perceptions o f the endorsed products, the salience o f the matched image would enhance the value o f the endorsement. Match-up theory demonstrates the importance o f evaluating the endorsement process by comparing attributes o f the celebrity and the product. Furthermore, this study found that the interviewed Chinese young adults purchased or showed their potential preference i n consuming the products endorsed by Y a o M i n g . This finding is consistent with the third step o f M c C r a c k e n ' s "meaning transfer" model that the consumer w i l l acquire the meanings that the celebrity endowed to the products by purchasing the goods. Some respondents expressed their preference for an Apple notebook, because Y a o M i n g delivered the meaning o f quality, attractiveness, and intelligence to Apple. Some respondents showed their pleasure and passion i n drinking Gatorade, because Y a o M i n g delivered the meanings o f "power" and "recovering energy". However, Y a o M i n g ' s influence on the cultural meanings the participants could achieve through consuming his endorsed products was modest i n some cases. For example, some respondents explained that the price o f an Apple Notebook was too high for them and hence they would purchase one when they could afford to do so i n the future, and i n the mean time they were not embarrassed to possess the brand. A l s o , some respondents indicated that not all the people i n their small communities (e.g. a  72  group with several basketball fans) drank Gatorade and they did not "lose face" because o f it. This finding provides a different perspective o f Chinese consumers to W i l s o n and Sparks' findings that "symbolic power" and "style-copying among peers" was widespread among the Black youth with respect to purchasing products endorsed b y their favourite athletes. Theoretical Implications o f Study Results for Audience Research Literature Diverse theories that address audience reactions to the media suggest that audiences are not passive recipients (Hall, 1973; M o r l e y ' s , 1980; Moores, 1993). M o r l e y (1980) suggested that media research should consider diverse genres for different communities. Research done by W i l s o n and Sparks (1996) indicated that the Black and non-Black youth they interviewed actively interpreted commercials i n different ways. They also pointed out that similar "interpretive strategies" existed i n the same "interpretive communities." This thesis research found that the participants comprised a kind o f interpretive community. The respondents stated that they lived and studied abroad as overseas Chinese students and that this situation may have caused them to have stronger feelings for a Chinese celebrity. They stated that their preference and willingness to see a Chinese symbol, acquire news about China, or watch a Chinese celebrity i n commercials on western television would likely decrease i f they were i n China. This finding is compatible with W i l s o n and Sparks' (1996) conception that members o f an interpretive community share similar "interpretive strategies". A l s o , the special nature o f the interpretive community in this study suggests that the study might have reached a different conclusion i f it researched Chinese university students i n mainland China. This possibility provides an opportunity for future study, perhaps  73  exploring how Chinese who live i n China interpret Y a o M i n g ' s depiction i n commercials. Meanwhile, keeping this factor o f social location i n mind, it helps us to better understand the importance for audience research to clarify the nature o f the study populations when using interpretive communities. This study found that the participants' discussions o f the celebrity's image included more information than the commercials themselves provided. The participants brought i n a lot o f extra meanings they acquired from other media such as the Internet, newspapers, magazines and television. These meanings, including "humble," "simple lifestyle," and "humorous", described by some respondents cannot be obtained from the descriptive analysis o f the content o f the commercials themselves. Some respondents explained that they had read Y a o M i n g ' s biography or news or journal articles about his performance and life and that they brought their knowledge to the discussion. This finding is symmetrical with A n g ' s (1996) theory that the media is powerful i n influencing readers while they are "active audiences". It is also consistent with Dong Jinxia's (2003) theory about the Chinese media and the celebrity athletes. According to Dong (2003), "Celebrity athletes have i n recent decades received positive profiles i n the Chinese media, and have been frequently and uncritically applauded by the media as national heroes and heroines.. .however, i n the last decade there have appeared negative profiles o f sportsmen and w o m e n . . . " (p. 159) For example, when comparing Y a o M i n g and Wang Zhizhi, some respondents suggested that the former was patriotic, considering his motherland and the public, while the latter was selfish and less caring about the community. These meanings were all derived from  74  media reports. Moreover, this finding may help supplement genre theory with the insight that substantially different meanings can result even within a specific genre that has been deliberately selected for a particular audience. Implications for Marketing Practice This study contributes to our understanding of why Yao Ming is so popular in sports marketing. In addition to the common meanings of celebrities as famous and successful people, five focus groups interpreted Yao Ming as distinctive and expressed that he signifies China and Chinese nationalism. This finding attributes Yao Ming's marketing popularity to two major features. First, Yao Ming's personal appeal, which is distinct from most other celebrities, brings a "breath of fresh air" to the sport celebrity world, and draws significant media attention and audience interest. Second, the fact that Yao Ming symbolizes China gives sponsors the confidence to hire him to export the Chinese market which is the biggest in the world. This suggests that the interpretations of the focus group participants are consistent with what the marketers anticipated. Yao Ming's influence would be in China and for Chinese people in North America. It also indicates that most of Yao Ming's endorsements are probably effective. This study found that the participants had the intention to learn more about and potentially consume products endorsed by Yao Ming. Some respondents pointed out that Yao Ming could successfully endorse male products that were commensurate with "powerful slam-dunking," and automobiles and airlines where "more space, flexibility, and comfort" could be reflected by his "super big and intelligent choice." This finding suggests that marketers should consider these product categories as part of Yao Ming's  75  endorsing profile. This finding also suggests that Redenbach's (1999) theory that a celebrity can endorse an array o f products can be applied to Chinese celebrity athletes. This study found that the female participants tended to have different feelings towards Chinese celebrity athletes than the male participants, even while both groups were generally supportive. Female respondents explained that they would only purchase sports products that an athlete endorsed and that for other products they were more influenced b y popular celebrities such as musicians, singers, actors or actresses. For example, some female respondents suggested that they would use Reebok rather than other products Y a o M i n g endorsed. This finding is consistent with B o y d and Shank's (2004) research that male and female attitudes toward the expertise o f celebrity athletes are similar. A l s o , some female respondents suggested that Y a o M i n g brought a positive message to Pepsi-Cola but they would buy the products because o f another endorser Zhou Jielun, a famous musician. This finding brings a new perspective to understanding the attitudes o f young Chinese women towards Chinese celebrities. Keeping this i n mind, therefore, it is important for marketing practitioners to be careful about using Y a o M i n g for non-sports products when a majority o f consumers are women. In another words, marketers must select the right kind o f celebrity i n promoting in China. Moreover, this study found that there was no significant difference i n the participants' interpretations o f Y a o M i n g ' s depiction based on whether they were watching western or Chinese commercials. Respondents were consistent that both Chinese and western commercials portrayed Y a o M i n g as having an oriental image with apparent oriental characteristics such as "soft," "gentle," and "Chinese man." This finding suggests that the reflection o f the orient and China v i a Y a o M i n g is safe and  76  c  unproblematic, because this meaning is supported by Chinese consumers. Because the respondents were Chinese and the commercials for Apple, V i s a , and Gatorade were only televised i n North America where the majority o f audiences are western people, it is possible that westerners might obtain different cultural meanings from those experienced by the study participants. This possibility provides an opportunity for future study, perhaps exploring how different interpretive communities interpret the same celebrity athlete. Most importantly, however, for the present study is the fact that because these three commercials were made for western audiences, it was possible that Chinese viewers might be offended b y the racial depiction (stereotypes) o f Y a o as Chinese, yet clearly this was not the case. Implications o f Study Results for Research Methodology V e r y few previous studies focused on the cultural interpretation o f Chinese celebrity athletes. Both L i u (2000) and Zhang (2003) used content analysis to analyze the cultural meanings exhibited in Chinese advertisements. The research o f the former summarized the common cultural meanings o f Chinese celebrity and the research o f the latter generalized the cultural values that Chinese advertisements promoted to young adults. The content analyses used in these two studies provide a general understanding o f cultural meanings about Chinese celebrity and endorsement. B y comparison, this study combined interpretive analysis with focus groups. The interpretive analysis provided a basic understanding o f the narratives o f the commercials and the meanings they plausibly would express. The focus groups provided insights into the actual meanings o f the commercials for the groups who viewed them. The combination o f these two methods provided a means for identifying whether the  77  meanings were directly acquired from the commercial messages or indirectly brought i n by the audience, for example, from prior exposure to other media. This also provides a means for comparing those meanings. For example, respondents' interpretations o f Y a o M i n g ' s simple lifestyle could not be directly obtained from the descriptions o f any o f the commercials but this meaning helped to build up his healthy image and enable h i m to be distinct from most other celebrities. Therefore, the combination o f these methods helps to understand that the meanings brought i n from outside the commercials were at least as important as those inside them. The proposed recruiting methods o f this study involved using an Internet poster and a snow-ball method. Initially, the researcher thought that prospective participants would actively respond i f they read an advertisement posted on the Internet o f the graduate student association, however, no one responded to the ad. There may have been three reasons for the failure o f the web-based recruiting method, as the president o f the association suggested. First, the hit rate o f their website may be very low. Second, association members may have had only a passive interest i n participating i n focus groups for research, even though they were interested in the topic o f the research. Third, there might not have been any readers who were interested in the topic. W h i l e the Internet ad was ineffective, the snow-ball method was very effective. This was demonstrated when the president phoned an individual (only his third call) and this person quickly collected sufficient participants who fit the sampling criteria for the focus groups. This confirmed the effectiveness o f the snow-ball method and showed that similar research could successfully use this method to recruit participants.  78  CHAPTER 6 CONCLUSION This thesis addressed the attitudes o f Chinese young adults toward Y a o M i n g ' s portrayal i n commercials and towards his personal influence on the products he endorses. The participants' attitudes toward Y a o M i n g were supportive and the meanings they obtained were all positive on three levels: 1. common meanings as a celebrity, 2 . Y a o ' s distinctiveness from most other celebrity athletes, and 3 . his symbolism o f Chinese and China. The last two levels o f cultural meanings contribute most to his marketing popularity. The study found that there is no meaning difference when the viewers interpreted Y a o M i n g ' s depiction i n western and Chinese commercials and that in both cases the meanings were all about oriental and Chinese values. The study results informed work on celebrity endorsements and indicated that a Chinese celebrity athlete, like Y a o M i n g , was indeed able to deliver meaning to the products he endorses and hence improve the brand name. The focus group results showed that the effect on consumption o f Chinese viewers was fairly moderate, even though all viewers were consistent i n attributing value to Y a o M i n g as an endorser. The results also showed that the degree o f influence o f celebrity athletes varies between male and female viewers. Moreover, a special condition - living abroad was discovered and this may have caused the participants' feelings towards a Chinese celebrity to be stronger than those when living i n mainland China. Limitations This project had several limitations. First, the study was about Chinese young adults and conducted i n Vancouver, and therefore, participant selection was limited to  79  Chinese young adults living i n Vancouver. In addition, the Chinese population is the largest i n the world and therefore, culturally diverse even i n Mainland China. For example, people live i n different areas, each with different economic, cultural, and living conditions. Because o f this diversification, participants' attitudes towards a celebrity athlete may differ, according to their region o f origin. It is also possible that living out o f China may cause them to have different attitudes toward a Chinese celebrity than they would have i f they remained i n China. Finally, the study only applies to a certain period of Y a o M i n g ' s career. Since the situation o f an athlete changes from time to time, some factors such as Y a o M i n g ' s performance, his behavior, and the media representation o f Y a o M i n g may change i n the future. Because such change may influence an audience's attitude towards him, it should be made clear that these results are specific to the time period i n which the research was conducted. Recommendations for Future Study Over the course o f this thesis project, potential improvements for this study were identified and other areas o f relevant research that could extend this work were noted. Based on these, I have outlined briefly six questions for future study. 1. Has Y a o M i n g brought anything new to sport marketing i n China? For example, are there any changes in how Chinese professional athletes are being treated because o f Y a o M i n g ? Sports marketing i n China is developing from an "Olympic-driven model" to a "marketing-driven model" (Geng, Burton, & Blakemore 2002; Dong, 2003), and traditionally, Chinese sponsors have favored using gold medalists to be product endorsers (Schelvogt, 2002). Within this "transition period," increasingly more celebrity athletes have become product endorsers, especially those who are not gold medalists, because  80  gold medalists are the minority after all. To examine whether Y a o M i n g is contributing to a change in using athletes as endorsers, some factors would need to be evaluated such as changes i n salaries o f professional athletes and numbers o f endorsements before and after Yao M i n g ' s joining the N B A , the relationships between these changes and Y a o M i n g , and the attitudes o f consumers towards the Olympics and other sports. Have there been changes i n the sports mechanism i n China that might be attributed to Y a o ? In China, i n the m i d 1980s, Olympic victory occupied Chinese attention. F r o m the beginning o f the 1990s, change was undertaken to reform Olympic sports, and after 1995 the reform deepened, as Dong (2003) has described, " M e n ' s basketball, tennis and volleyball adopted the club system and professional league competitions. They were allowed to employ foreign players, to sell broadcasting rights and to sign lucrative sponsorship contracts" (p. 125). N o t only is Y a o M i n g ' s joining the N B A one o f the successful results o f sports reform i n China, but also the Y a o M i n g phenomenon brings some new challenges to China Sports. For example, how does China Sports balance the reality that Chinese athletes are employed by other countries and serve for China? W i l l there be any changes i n the sports system in the face o f athlete such as Y a o M i n g who has tremendous income? W i l l China Sports change some o f the regulations because o f Y a o M i n g (e.g. the issue o f Y a o ' s protest to Coca-Cola, details i n the following section)? 2. Has Y a o M i n g mad or could he make an impact on the economy i n China? A s a multi-product endorser, Y a o M i n g may benefit some brands but against the competitors of these brands. For example, Y a o M i n g sued Coca-Cola for image right infringement i n M a y , 2003, because he and two other members o f the Chinese national team appeared on Coke bottles. H e is a spokesman for Pepsi that is a well-known competitor o f Coca-Cola.  81  He demanded immediate withdrawal o f the promotional materials and the products with his name and image as well as a public apology and 1 Y u a n Renminbi (Chinese currency) symbolic compensation. According to the Chinese Sports Management Company, CocaC o l a had the right to use the "group image" o f the Chinese team. Finally, Coca-Cola apologized to h i m i n October. Apparently, this was an economic battle between two soft drink giants. M o r e importantly, this issue exposed the leak i n the law o f Chinese sports. 3. H o w are Chinese teenagers socially influenced by Y a o M i n g ? A student from a secondary school i n Shanghai stated "Someday, there'll be no American left i n the N B A " when he was practicing basketball on a court (Fackler, 2002). Y a o M i n g ' s fame, success, and wealth would have a very big impact on Chinese youth who are i n a formative period during which the concepts o f their value and beliefs are forming. For example, would some students abandon studying i n order to pursue sports careers, because Y a o M i n g provides a very good example o f an athlete with the best prestige and the highest income in China. 4. What is Y a o M i n g ' s impact on western people? This research was conducted among Chinese young adults, but there are a lot o f westerners who like to watch Y a o M i n g play. What meanings can this group gain? H o w are they influenced by the commercials that portray Y a o M i n g ? In the meantime, some o f the commercials used in the research have only been broadcasted i n North America and thus are aimed at this market; therefore, to better understand whether these endorsements are effective, research must be done on Y a o M i n g ' s impact on local people. 5. H o w are Chinese young adults living i n China influenced by Y a o M i n g ? The initial purpose o f this research was to examine the reactions o f Chinese people to Y a o  82  M i n g , but the special character o f the focus groups were found to distinguish them from residents in China. Given that the participants were all overseas students, their feelings o f national identity were stronger. A s they discussed in the sessions, when the news, affairs, images, persons, or even the languages pertained to China, they appeared to be more interested i f they were living i n Canada than in China. A future study conducted in China would be very useful for understanding Y a o M i n g ' s influence on and interpretation by indigenous Chinese people. Moreover, the comparison between these two groups and the research on other age-range groups w i l l contribute to improving our understandings o f Chinese celebrity and Chinese community. 6.Several other potential perspectives on Y a o are worth studying i n the future. While Y a o M i n g has achieved worldwide fame, he is a relative novice i n the N B A with only two seasons experience, and he is also new to the media, hence his phenomenon is a timely issue and his situation w i l l continue changing. Athletic cases are sometimes unpredictable. K o b e Bryant provides a good lesson for all the celebrity athletes. Kobe was also very new, young, and called "tomorrow's star" when getting media fan and sponsor attention. However, a scandal resulting from an illegal sexual assault almost destroyed his career and qualification as an endorser. W i t h companies' wonder whether the endorsement is still effective or not, it was reported that several endorsement was delayed or canceled and total amount o f such fees was account for tens o f millions (Sohu, 2003). Similarly, Y a o M i n g ' s future is filled with uncertainty and the public and the media are regularly tracking him; therefore, it is worth doing research on his reputation. For example, what and how w i l l his reputation have impacts on his image and endorsements? In the meantime, his performance i n the N B A is another topic. O n the one  83  hand, the statistics indicate that he has made progress and there is a possibility that he w i l l become one o f the best N B A basketball players. O n the other hand, while the statistics are improved, he is new with a lot o f instability and his performance is likely to be up and down. 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Wilson, B . , & Sparks, R. (1996). "It's gotta be the shoes": Youth, race, and sneaker commercials. Sociology of Sport Journal, 13, 398-427. Wilson, B . & Sparks, R . (1999). Impacts o f black athlete media portrayals on Canadian youth. Canadian Journal of Communication, 24, 589-627. Zhang, J. & Shavitt, S. (2003). Cultural values i n advertisements to the Chinese X generation: promoting modernity and individualism. Journal of Advertising, spring, 32 (1), 23-33.  90  Appendix A : Focus Groups Participants  Groupl  Group2 Group3  Group4  Group5  Total N o .  Age  In Vancouver (mo.)  Fl  20  24  F2  20  15  24  F3  19  17  22  28  F4  20  28  M7  24  36  F5  21  30  M8  24  20  F6  22  24  M9  22  18  M10  23  20  Mil  19  23  F7  21  26  M12  22  18  M13  21  20  M14  22  24  F8  22  24  M15  21  15  M16  21  14  M17  20  26  M18  23  28  In Vancouver (mo.) Female  Male  Age  Ml  19  14  M2  20  24  M3  20  33  M4  21  30  M5  20  M6  8  18  91  Appendix B : Three Levels O f Meanings Obtained B y Chinese Y o u n g Adults F r o m Y a o Ming's Image Depth o f the Feelings First Level  Second Level  Third Level  Descriptions  General features o f a C o o l , Powerful, Successful, Famous, Self-confident celebrity athlete Y a o Ming's distinctions from others Special feelings to special interpretive communities  Modest, Healthy, K i n d , Genital, Enthusiastic, Honest and Simple, Simple Lifestyle, Humorous The Sign o f China, Chinese, Asia, all about oriental  92  Correlations Physical appearance, Expertise, Achievement, The media exposure Physical appearance, Unique Characteristics and Lifestyle Nationalism, Patriotism  Appendix C: Focus Group Guide 1. Introducing 1) Purpose of the session: Welcome everybody to join our discussion about advertising portrayed with Yao Ming's image. The purpose of this study is to examine what cultural meanings Chinese young adults gain from Yao's image in the ads. Please feel free to talk about your own opinions. 2)  Structure of the session: This session includes five steps: introduction, small survey, watching advertisements and filling out the questionnaire, discussion, and conclusion.  3) Privacy declaration: As this session is for research purposes, please give me permission to use your ideas and opinions in my research. However, for your privacy, your real name will not be used in the thesis. I am recording this session and I will transcribe the audio-recording using pseudonyms for your names. No one's real name will appear in the transcripts or the thesis, or any publication from the project. The tape and computer text files will be kept on disk and in a locked cabinet at U B C or at my home. While in transit the disk will be in only the principal investigator's (my professor) or my possession. Everyone participant the discussion will get two long-distance phone cards as a gift. Meanwhile, there is no obligation to answer, participate, or continue participating. 2.  Filling out the "Biographical Information" (Appendix 2): the purpose for this small survey is to collect information about your interests in Yao Ming.  3. Viewing Advertisements and filling out the "Commercial Viewing Questionnaire" (Appendix 3). 1) Apple computer (Big and Small) 2) Visa (Super Bowl Ad) 3) Gatorade 4 ) Pepsi-Cola China (Inspiration) 5) N B A (I love this game) 4.  Discussing: 1) Which was your favourite commercial? Why? Tell the story of the commercials.  93  2) What meanings does Yao Ming symbolize? Pleas use some specific words to describe these meanings. 3) Does the use of Yao Ming affect your opinion of the advertisement? Y / N How? 4) Would it make a difference if the advertisements substituted Wang Zhizhi or Batere for Yao Ming? If yes, how would it change it? (intend to compare the distinctions of Yao Ming from other two N B A Chinese players) 5) Would it make a difference if the advertisements substituted another white or black N B A player for Yao Ming? (intend to compare the distinctions of Yao Ming from other N B A players) 6) Would it make a difference if the advertisements substituted another Chinese movie stars such as Jacky Chan, Jack Li, or Chow for Yao Ming? (intend to compare the distinctions of Yao Ming from other Chinese celebrities) 7) How would you change the advertisements to make it more appealing to you? 8) Do you think that his image fits fast-food products? (to learn what they think of his endorsement with McDonalds) 9) Do you think that his image fits Internet brands? (to learn what they think of his endorsement with Sohu) 10) What products categories does Yao Ming fit to speak for? (to learn whether they think him as a multiple products endorser) 11) Being a Chinese living in Vancouver, would it be difference you think of Yao Ming if you live in mainland China? Conclusion and appreciation: Thank you very much for your participation and discussion. These two long-distance cards are small gifts of my appreciation. If anyone of you wants to know the result of this research, please let me know and I will give you a summary of my thesis.  94  Appendix D: Biographical Information Instructions: The following questions are intended to provide some background information about you. Answer all the questions as accurately as you can. If it is unclear what is being asked, please ask for help from the group leader. 1. Age: 2.  (years)  Sex: Male/Female (circle)  3. Your interest  ___  4. How long have been studying abroad  (months)  5. How many N B A games did you watch last year, because Yao was playing? I 0  'around 1-2 games  I 3+games  6. How many times did you go to the website to read news about Yao Ming? 10  Wound 1-2 time  '3+times  95  Appendix E: Theatre Viewing Questionnaire for study (based on similar version used in work on audience interpretations of soft drink, beer commercials as well as athletic apparel). This questionnaire accompanies the biographical information form that is completed after the focus group session.  Commercial Viewing Questionnaire (one to be filled out for each commercial) Please respond to the following questions after viewing the television commercial. 1. Have you seen this commercial before? Yes/No (circle one) If yes, approximately how long ago?  2. Do you buy this brand? Yes/No (circle one) 3. What did you like most about this commercial?  4. What did you like least?  96  


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