Mixed messaging: State broadcaster CCTV running ads on Instagram despite service being blocked in China

Hails campaign as a success in reaching 3.7m Chinese expats in US alone, as more Chinese companies venture overseas

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 October, 2015, 5:58pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 October, 2015, 8:58pm

State broadcaster CCTV and other Chinese companies are now advertising on photo-sharing service Instagram, which is blocked on the mainland, to promote themselves to international audiences.

CCTV launched a series of 15-second video clips on the site to position itself as a “source of world news from a Chinese perspective” for 3.7 million Chinese expats living in the US, according to a press release issued by Instagram.

“Instagram advertising allowed us to reach our target audience at scale in the US,” said Zhang Shilei, CCTV’s head of multimedia global operations.

“By producing video content specifically for the platform that showcased the breadth and quality of our news programming, we can truly engage the English-speaking youth community on mobile.”

READ MORE: Instagram launches global ad service, and Facebook lays another golden egg 3 years after US$1 billion acquisition of photo-sharing app

Many of the most popular international social media, news and even search sites are banned in China, including Instagram’s parent Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times and Google.

Instagram launched in 2010 and recently hit the 400-million-users milestone, nearly a quarter more than Twitter can boast of.

It began experimenting with ad-based revenue 18 months ago for limited merchants in the US and expanded this programme to all businesses last month, starting with a group of countries and regions including Hong Kong.

Its ad service is now available in over 30 countries with more to be added soon, it said.

According to eMarketer, this enlarged revenue channel is expected to net the company US$600 million by the end of 2015.

As more Chinese companies venture overseas, Snail Games, a Chinese gaming company, has also been marketing its mobile game Taichi Panda to users in the US via Instagram.

Meanwhile, Twitter set up an office in Hong Kong in March in a bid to woo Chinese advertisers who wish to engage international audiences.

Its clients already include China’s state-run Xinhua news agency, PC maker Lenovo and smartphone manufacturer ZTE.

Facebook, which acquired Instagram for US$1 billion in 2012, opened its Hong Kong office four years ago as it also struggles to find a way around the ban and entice Chinese companies to market themselves on its platform, while also working to sell advertisements to Chinese companies.

The social network now claims to have 1.49 billion monthly active users.

Despite China’s rigid censorship of foreign sites with the potential to act as virtual meeting grounds for fomenting unrest or promoting anti-government sentiments, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is even learning Putonghua as he seeks way to court Beijing and get the site unblocked.

He famously conducted a 30-minute question-and-answer session entirely in Chinese at Tsinghua University in Beijing last October and is married to ethnic-Chinese American Priscilla Chan. The couple are expecting a daughter.

In September, Zuckerberg chatted with Xi Jinping in the Chinese president’s native tongue at a US-China internet forum in Seattle.

The American entrepreneur even asked Xi to suggest a name for his unborn child, according to US media .

Xi reportedly declined, stating that it would be “too much responsibility.”