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[The Explainer]: This Is How You Buy Advertising on the Pudong Skyline

So you wanna get your name in lights...
2021-07-23 18:00:00
"The Explainer" is a column that focuses on an aspect of Shanghai life that need some explanation. We’re asking and answering questions like... Why? How? What? ... and .... Huh?

If I had 100 RMB for every time I’ve been languidly sipping a Moscow Mule up on the Bar Rouge rooftop patio, really appreciating the chill BR vibes, and gazing out at the glittering Pudong skyline wondering about how I, personally, can buy advertising space, for my own devices, on one of the “supertalls” over there across the river — the Shanghai Tower, the Aurora Building — hell, I could even do some respectable damage even with the measly old CitiBank Tower — well...

...I still wouldn’t have enough money because I talked to a couple advertising agencies and found out how much it was! 

So that’s what this is.  An “Explainer” on how the giant ads on the Pudong skyline come into existence.   Here’s how YOU TOO can get your own shit up on one of these magnificent, magnificent  buildings.

This is what’s available: The Oriental Pearl TV Tower, The Shanghai Tower, the Aurora Building, and the CitiBank Tower. 

According to the ad package promos we’ve seen, these four are reaching 600,000 pairs of eyes a day.  A nice, even number!  That's lucky!  Display times are roughly between 6pm and 11pm.  The sizes and display formats are unique to the individual building, but generally, you are buying small increments of time — say 15 or 30 seconds — played around  60-80 times an evening with other companies’ ads, for the duration of a week.  The alternative option is you can buy by-the-hour.  When you want to make the big statement, drop a briefcash of cash and take over a full hour with something special for one time only.

Yeah, yeah, yeah… how much, man!

We got a "media buying agency" to send us some numbers. They were quick to note that these are approximate, entry-conversation prices, although they matched another agencies' numbers, as well as the quote we got from someone directly at one of these buildings. At this level of commerce and deal making, though, the hand of Adam Smith is engaged in doing baijiu shots in some secret private dining room somewhere.  Everything is negotiable.

If there’s one thing that watching 7 seasons of Mad Men has taught me: advertising is game of nuance.   

The Oriental Pearl TV Tower

The original Pudong-via-outer-space gangster mack. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower affords “color lighting projection” advertising, which is just a way of saying a big static or slightly undulating image is projected all along it’s majestic 468-meter hight.  She dances, she prances. She’s yours for two hours for an easy 2 million RMB.


The Aurora Building

Come through, Aurora Building.  We see you.  We see you, with that shimmering golden facade and the “2004 Guinness World Book of Records Biggest LED Screen in the World”.   57 by 63 meters of pure LED sweetness the Aurora Building is all about "I Heart Shanghai" and charging RMB 620,000 for an hour of her time.  Also available is week-long packages featuring your 30-second ad around 80 times a day for RMB 464,000.


The CitiBank Tower

Don’t count out CitiBank.  She’s comin’ for ya.  She’s comin’! This sassy little minx currently hosts the world’s sixth largest LED screen and is splitting her time between her week-long clients dishing up RMB 500,000 for 15-second slots 60 times a day and bad boy, one-hour wonder clients, doing RMB 770,000 for a full hour of hers and our undivided attention.   


The Shanghai Tower

Make way for Big Easy.

***air siren noise***

Twisting up to the heavens, the Shanghai Tower offers “color lighting” advertising around the top section of the building, some 600 meters in the air, and also in the body section.   Available for 1 million RMB per hour only

How’d they come up with that number you ask?

Went up to the top floor, knocked on the window, and asked GOD HERSELF.

'Hey, ya got a minute? Just wanted to ask your opinon on something...'


Drone show! They also sent us the price tag for the drone show. 

Hey, you want 200 or more individual drone buddies soaring over the Huangpu river in acrobatic unison performing a dazzling ballet of aerial dexterity, lights, and futuristic wonder in jubilant tribute to your brand launch?

RMB 2,000,000 for 10 minutes.  (Friend price.)


Let’s Get Our Message Out There

I contacted one of Shanghai’s leading media buyer agency to discuss the feasibility of me getting my own ideas and projects up on one of these buildings, and if 400-meter LED screens on some of the largest buildings in the history of humanity is the right platform for me. 

What follows is a transcript of our discussion.  The media buying representative asked that they be quoted anonymously so as to not mess with an employment situation that presumably pays pretty handsomely.   


SmSH: Maybe to start, you can introduce what do you guys do?  Pretend like I know absolutely nothing about advertising or stuff like that.

We do lots of stuff that can go under ‘advertising’ but mainly media buying, media strategy, and planning for our roster of clients.  So, we work with concrete ad spaces around Shanghai and on The Bund, but also with WeChat or Weibo — any media space — and integrating them all.

SmSH: So, for the physical ad space in the city, you work with arranging advertisements for your clients to appear on these buildings in Pudong.  In addition to working with the Bund buildings, what else do you do? Like, billboards on Huaihai Lu and ads in the metro stations and stuff?

Yep! The way it works is that there are vendor companies who manage those spaces.  For example, if you look sometimes on metro ads, in corner it says ‘jcdecaux’ or something similar.  That’s the vendor company.   We connect our clients with the vendors, and work with strategy on how to best meet their goals.

We’re kind of like bookies. Bigger agencies like ours buy up so much ad space that we get better pricing from vendor companies, rather than if our clients went to these vendor companies directly.

SmSH:  So it goes, client ---> media buyer (you) ---> vendor agency ---> success. Are there a few agencies that deal with the Pudong skyline advertising thing? Or are you guys the Avon Barksdales of the projects, so to speak?

There are other media buyers in Shanghai, of course, but when you’re getting to that kind of money going around, it’s a question of size.  Smaller agencies who don’t book as often might not get the same discounts or have the access to this inventory.

The one I work in is one of the biggest media buying groups. We’re the dark side.

SmSH: Oh congrats! That sounds so sexy!  So the Pudong skyline — the OPTV Tower, the Aurora Building — is this really coveted ad space? It’s kind of the “face of Shanghai” right? 

Yeah, it is. But there is a lot of restrictions.  It’s so high profile…

SmSH: Has anyone ever used it for personal messages?  Like a marriage proposal?

Yes, it has happened.  But it’s super rare.  You need some good connections because it has to go through a “censorship” process.  The vendors of the spaces want to make sure they don’t put forward anything that can cause them trouble.

SmSH: Yeah, the information I got from a few other sources was that there is a censorship process and stuff needs four weeks to go through approval.  I asked the Shanghai Tower management if I could write just like a personal little thing on top of their building and they weren't into the idea.

Yeah, clients have to provide business license, and the intended images and text….

I know in digital ads over social media, there are banned words. You cant use word ‘best’ for example to describe your product or service on an ad because it’s considered ‘exaggerating’.

SmSH: That’s kind of great that “exaggerating” is illegal.

Depending on the client’s industry, they’ll have to provide other documents too, sometimes.

SmSH: I wanted to show you some images I think would be great on the Aurora Building -- but I'm open to whichever of the four -- and ask you your professional opinion about whether I have a leg to stand on with the regulation people about getting these on there.  Sound okay?


SmSH: Not really advertising.  But just a positive message for the people in these tough times. I think the Aurora would be great for this. 

You might need to show you've got the copyright to that image…

SmSH: Ah, true.  Who would have though such pessimism coming from someone who works in advertising…

What about this one then. This one is more of an art piece.


Yeah no.

SmSH:  It's like inspired by that Orson Welles’ radio show hoax.  It’s War of the Worlds for the 21st century.   Maybe if you see how it would look in my expert photoshop mock-up…

This one would go under ‘raising panic’ or something like that.

SmSH:  Hmmm.

Actually, if you wanted impact, you should rent them all together, which is what some big companies do.  Big companies do it for a product launch, and sync with their digital and social media. They ask people on their socials, for example, to share pics of the big ads or drones so they keep getting more ‘buzz’.

When people then add their own free content that helps get 'organic' reach. The message is moving forward and they aren’t even paying for it. 

Also, once brands get you to interact with an ad, they can get the sweet data to help with future ads - nothing personal, but they get location, device type, and whatever else they can ask you to provide. 


Hey, hey, I just want to get giant cats all up into the Pudong skyline... not steal people's identities! 

Well, hmm...


Pudong skyline advertising.  Explained! Kinda! Good enough!