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Hello all, how are you?
So this is my 2nd ‘new year’ of the year and I hope it’s better than how the first one started.
The beauty of having so much time off over the last 2 months is that I’ve had time to recuperate from the stresses and strains of the previous year as well as have time to think about what I want to do in the years ahead and one of those things is to be more involved in China.
I love this country … I love the beautiful madness of opportunity and frustration.
Call me a masochist, but this is far more fun – at least for me – than being in a land where you have a pretty good grip on everything that is going on.
Of course there’s times where having a ‘bit more grip’ would be very useful – not to mention comfortable – but one of the fantastic things about China is that it’s evolving so fast, that what is ‘normality’ one day may be confined to history within a matter of weeks.
But you wouldn’t know that if you saw most of the ads.
In China, the vast majority of communication focus on 2 things:
Now it could be argued that these 2 attributes are quite similar around the World, let alone around Asia … but the way brands communicate this in China is almost identikit.
There is literally no difference.
It’s not just a case you could change the logo on the ad and it would be suitable for any competitor, you could change the logo on the ad and it could be suitable for any category.
Seriously, the basic construct for a Chinese ad is this:
Celebrity + Family + Aspirational lifestyle + = Chinese ad, just add a brand logo.
Now I am sure lots of people who work in this country will go “but it works” …
But my argument is that it’s not the ads that are achieving double digit growth for brands, it’s China’s fast growing economy mixed with a massive population that has started getting access to choices and money they’ve previously rarely [if ever] had.
I’m not denying the ads will have had some impact, but what bothers me is that too many people are solely crediting them with all this brand growth and that’s leading to the attitude that this ‘strategy’ is the blueprint of how to successfully communicate with the Chinese population.
And it’s bollocks.
Sure, China is under-developed in terms of marketing … but that doesn’t mean they’re under-developed in all aspects of their life, in fact, I’d say that in many areas, they’re way ahead of the rest of the World.
This reluctance to investigate Chinese attitudes and behaviour beyond family and status bothers the fuck out of me.
Actually, even that’s wrong because despite all the ‘data and research reports’ that are churned out by all and sundry, I question if people are even investigating family and status beyond the superficial levels of ‘People want status’ and ‘Family is important’.
This is why I love my job, my team and W+K … because we honestly don’t want to undersell the people in this great country … we don’t want to treat them as idiots … we don’t want to approach challenges with a ‘one size fits all’ mentality, or worse, import ‘global human truths’ that fail to take into account that while their beliefs might be similar, the way people express them are very different in China.
And then there’s the fact that a country this old, beautiful, rich, powerful and evolving deserves work that specifically reflects their character and views, not just an interpretation of global perspectives.
But I digress.
The thing is, contrary to popular belief, W+K does a huge amount of work on understanding people.
The reason our work is so good is because we ‘get’ culture … and we do this by constantly poking, questioning, challenging and listening.
Just recently I sent one of my talented colleagues to go backpacking around 6 of China’s fastest growing cities.
He wasn’t allowed to pre-arrange any interviews or stay in any nice places – he had to get a more ‘raw read’ of what people felt, thought and wanted – and while what he did simply touched the surface of attitudes and behaviour, you can see from his adventure that the people of China have far more going on in their lives and minds than 99% of ads give them credit for.
So if you want a taste of what lies beneath the over-simplified hype that mainstream media likes to present, go on a visit to boomtownstories and read stories of happiness, optimism, complexity and confusion.
While I know my job is to help clients get rich, I also believe adland has the power to make a major difference to people and society and these sorts of social experiments show just how much we could do if we didn’t always go for the lowest common denominator.
If there’s any country where this opportunity exists, it’s China.
If there’s any culture that would appreciate it, it’s China.
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