Orson Welles Having A Laugh

Jing Huiwen, 39 years old, owns an advertising agency called Jing Image Creation in Communist China. In 1994 he paid less than $100 to buy time on a small TV station in the northern town of Taiyuan, and ran a 15-second commercial that warned of a mythical beast prowling the area.

On an otherwise blank TV screen, a text message explained that the Sibuxiang beast might soon break into people's homes and that its bite was fatal. Citizens were warned to keep their doors and windows locked, and school children and housewives refused to leave their homes as a result of the warning.

Police stations switchboards were jammed, and the Communist Party ordered an investigation of Jing and his company.

Within 24 hours, however, the ad was revealed to be a hoax on the order of Orson Welles' famous War of the Worlds broadcast, and most people missed -- or ignored -- the commercial's tell-tale signoff: "Plotted by Jinxing Advertising."

The product, Sibuxiang, is a new brand of liquor.

Jing was fined nearly $600 for violating China's Advertisement Law, which does not officially take effect until February. The law bans false, misleading or so-called "horrific" ads, and even though he was forced to publicly apologize, Jing claims he did nothing unethical or irresponsible.

But for the sum of less than $700, Jing did something remarkable in a country of any size, let alone China -- he established a nationwide brand name overnight. To their credit, China's media lined up behind Jing, and expressed the view that if the country is to develop its economy, it will require similar experiments in creativity.

But in another era, Jing could just as easily have been put out of business for his trouble -- or worse.

January 1995
See/Hear/Speak No Evil