“Sex sells”. For any marketer it’s an adage as old as time. Even through waves of body positivity movements and #MeToo campaigns the western marketing world has and will continue to fall back on the familiar staple of sexual allure. But where the West has had periods of sexual liberation, lax censorship, and (in more secular areas) a greater commitment to sexual education, China has always landed on the opposite end of the spectrum. Yet, as we are a month out from China’s Valentine’s Day (Qixi Festival) it is important for Western brands to reflect on the changing nature of sex, love and relationships in modern China.
In May a survey of nearly 55,000 university students in China laid bare some fascinating insights. Those traditional upbringings were clear to see with half saying they’d never received any sex education in school – but of most interest, nearly a quarter recorded being non-heterosexual (mostly bisexual, homosexual and uncertain responses). This generation is feeling the full gender-imbalance effects of the one-child policy, with 2000s birth statistics showing some provinces like Guangdong having as many as 131 men for every 100 women. In 2017 China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs stated there were 200 million single adults and with this year’s People’s Congress prioritizing addressing the skyrocketing divorce rates in China one can assume the number has grown since.
Of course, the gender-skew likely plays an influence on the growing LGBT movement in China sparking sizeable culture shifts in China’s traditional multi-generational family units as this story about parents shelving their disapproval of a gay son in favor of doting on their new grandchild tells. In January Alibaba decided to use a gay couple at the centre of its Chinese New Year ad and was widely praised, reflecting a change in attitudes in this younger demographic. Less than two decades ago homosexuality was still classified as a mental disorder in China – showing some remarkable social progress. One only needs to look to the story of Blued, China’s gay dating app/community platform recording 49 million registered users in June’s IPO application.
So what does that mean for Western brands looking to connect with this growing trend? The LGBT movement in many ways it is a positive, as Western brands are now well-trained at inclusive marketing tactics and understanding this segment’s needs and can look to localise these strategies. Platforms like Blued and LGBT influencers are gaining more of a voice, and know how to delicately balance the tone of progression, but not activism. With LGBT NGOs still getting shut down and movies like Bohemian Rhapsody having all scenes with gay content removed – it is still a tricky space to navigate. Working with these Platforms and influencers can be a powerful string to your bow, as these communities can often be more interested in and aligned with Western brands and their values.
With regard to the singles phenomenon, we expect to see a big rise in ‘self-love’ campaigns this Qixi Festival. China Skinny research this year has shown a noticeable shift in young people’s priorities. Particularly in Tier 1 and 2 cities, aspirations for children have plummeted – and to a lesser extent dreams of marriage. Instead, self-improvement is on the rise (accelerated through lengthy lockdowns and self-reflection) be it in fitness, picking up some extra studies or turning oneself into a home chef.
We’ll be reporting back on what we see come Qixi on August 25th, but to make sure your romantic marketing campaigns resonate in today’s China, get in touch with China Skinny to talk all things marketing, strategy and branding.
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