Shanghai is one of the cradles of China’s modern advertising industry. With its opening as a trading port, foreign merchants came to Shanghai one after another. While they were promoting foreign products, they were also introducing foreign ways of advertising. In 1850, an Englishman named Shearman started an English weekly newspaper known as North China Herald, whole front page was often dominated by advertisements, and those were Shanghai’s earless newspaper advertisements.
The year of 1905 saw the appearance of the earliest journal advertisement in Shanghai as the advertisement of America’s Scott’s cod liver oil was published in Eastern Miscellany.
The introduction of billboard advertising began with advertisements for Mobil Oil and Japanese Rendan (a medicine) created by Min Tai Advertising Agency and You Xin Advertising Agency in 1911, Evans Book Company on Nanjing Road made the very first neon sign that Shanghai had ever seen, an advertisement for the Crown typewriter.
In the 1930’s, the advertising industry in Shanghai was already highly developed, represented by the four major advertising companies.
Chinese Entrepreneur Advertising Company, United Advertising Company, American Carl Crow Incorporated Company, and British Milligton Advertising Company – all of which boasted capabilities of advertisement design, production and integrated services.
On the eve of liberation, there were over 70 advertising companies and advertising agencies of all varieties operating in Shanghai. In May 1949, the Municipal Public Utility Bureau took over the advertising industry.
In May 1950, Shanghai Industry and Commerce Bureau took charge of the advertising industry.
In January 1956, socialist conversion of advertising industry took place. In June 1962, Shanghai Advertising Company was founded, becoming China’s first internationally orientated advertising company.
Aiming at foreign traders and distributors, it launched advertising campaigns for export products at every port in China, targeting traders in 90 economies.
In 1963, the company spent as much as 159,300 US dollars on advertising in overseas newspapers and magazines. The advertisements helped promote products as Double Happiness table tennis balls and paddles, Tsingtao beer, Maling canned food, Lacovo beverage, Maxam toothpaste and Double Coin tires. During the years of the Cultural Revolution, however, commercial advertising was suspended and not resumed until the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CPC.
In January 1979, Shanghai TV broadcast the first TV commercial in the country, and Jiefang Daily took the lead in resuming newspaper advertising foreign products. Subsequently, the first billboard advertisement for a foreign business, Japan Airlines, appeared on Nanjing Road.
From then on, foreign advertisements followed in its steps into Shanghai. Apart from the four major media of newspapers, magazines, TV and radio, other forms of advertisements such as neon signs, billboards, shop window signs, skywriting, sales promotion, mail, POP, transport vehicles, exhibition, and public relations also thrived. In order to promote self-discipline in the advertising industry, Shanghai Advertising Association was set up in March 1986. The industrial and commercial administrative organs in Shanghai supervised and administrated all advertising activities, investigated and cracked down on illegal advertisements as well as their operating units, and guided the development of advertising in accordance with Advertising Law of the Peoples Republic of China.
In 1990 Shanghai, for the first time ever, allowed private businesses to engage in advertising and began to accept applications for the incorporation of foreign-funded advertising firms in the form of Sino-foreign joint ventures.
In 1991, commercial advertisements were put on the sides of buses in downtown Shanghai for the first time. In 1994, Shanghai University launched its advertising art department, offering a undergraduate advertising program.
In the 21st century, outdoor advertising is more developed in Shanghai than in any other part of the country and the most advertised industries include automobiles, service, finance, real estate and information industry. At the end of 2007, there were a total of 26,480 firms engaged in advertising, employing 77,800 people, and yielding a total business revenue of 29.9 billion yuan; accounting respectively for 10.6% , 7.5% and 17.2% of the whole country.