NEW YORK (Reuters) - China’s state-run news agency will take over one of the highest-profile advertising locations in New York’s Times Square starting Monday, in perhaps the most visible step in its recent American expansion.
Xinhua is leasing a 60-foot high (18-meter) by 40-foot (12-meter) wide sign on the north end of Times Square, hoping to reach the estimated half a million people that pass through the area every day.
Xinhua’s signage will replace that of HSBC Bank, whose lease expired last month on a building, 2 Times Square, which also features ads by Coca-Cola and insurance company Prudential, and is one of New York’s most widely recognized images.
Xinhua’s U.S. expansion is seen as an effort to burnish the country’s image and build its brands here. A Pew Research Center poll earlier this year found that 43 percent of Americans saw China as a “serious problem.”
“This is all part of the process of China becoming global. They want to say to America, ‘Look we’re not just taking your jobs — we’re much more than that,’” said China expert Paul Markowski, president at Global Strategies-Analysis Group.
It is unclear though, what impact it will have in changing Americans’ perceptions, he said.
“People will become more aware of what Xinhua is,” he said. “Beyond that, I don’t know.”
Xinhua, which has had a presence in the United States since 1971, moved its North American headquarters from the New York borough of Queens to Times Square in May. Last year, it launched a 24-hour English-language television network called CNC World. Xinhua officials were not immediately available for comment on the Times Square lease.
Last year, in the run-up to U.S. congressional elections, some politicians aired campaign ads portraying China as a threat. U.S. lawmakers accused China of keeping its exports artificially cheap and taking American jobs.
Bob Brunette, 60, from Wisconsin, sitting at a Times Square plaza, said he had never heard of Xinhua and didn’t care if it began advertising here.
“It’s a free country,” he said.
Daniel Woo, 43, from New York welcomed the advertising initiative — especially, he said, in a tourist area. “Some people in the U.S. are biased against China, but that is because some people are ignorant,” he said.
Last January, China paid for a promotional video to appear on six giant screens in New York’s Times Square and on CNN to coincide with President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the United States. Xinhua called it a “public diplomacy campaign.”
Sherwood Outdoor, which leases the signs on 1 and 2 Times Square, has targeted Chinese companies for a number of years, its president, Brian Turner, said in an interview. He said he hopes the Xinhua lease will be the start of more Chinese brands advertising in Times Square.
“American companies have been going into China with their products and growing abroad and we anticipate that the reciprocal effect will take place,” he said.
Once companies lease signage space in Times Square, they tend to stick around, Turner said. Coca Cola has been there since the 1930s, Samsung since the mid-1980s and Prudential since the early 1990s, he said.
“Once they get there, they stay,” Turner said.
Editing by Mark Egan and Eric Walsh