Detailing marketing initiatives that helped us to understand Chinese consumers better.
In April 2017, Dolce & Gabbana released a series of images invoking its “D&G Loves China” campaign. Beautiful models adorned in the latest D&G releases were snapped intermingling with the public, often in front of landmark backdrops; the Great Wall, Beijing’s hutongs, and the Forbidden City among them. What was (I can only imagine) devised as a fun, light-hearted display of how D&G ‘knows’ China backfired tremendously.
China’s netizens took to social media, condemning D&G for its apparent espousal of backward and racist associations with China. The overwhelming sentiment was that the China photographed perpetuated Western viewpoints of an underdeveloped, dirty and inferior land. The people wanted to know: why was their country still represented by tuk-tuk drivers and pudgy, awkward tourists? The photos had gone global, posted on D&G’s western media like Instagram and Facebook, and the people were mad.
And not without reason. A short drive from the scene of the Beijing photos could take you to the site of a $2.1b A.I. research park to host 400 businesses and churn out $7.6b in annual output by 2023. The chair of the US Defense Innovation Advisory Board recently spoke plainly on the subject of the rise in China’s A.I. capabilities; “By 2020, they will have caught up. By 2025, they will be better than us. By 2030, they will dominate the industries of A.I.”
Or you could pop down to the Beihang University and its School of Astronautics and discuss China’s plans to have nuclear-powered space shuttles by 2040 which will “colonise the solar system.” These feats are just a drop in the ocean of advances which have driven China’s rise on the world stage and a fiercely proud population that no longer sees a reason to back down.
Why was this response meaningful?
The passionate response to D&G’s campaign reflects an empowered Chinese citizen. Not too long ago the campaign may have been well-received, but today’s China is a different story. Kaiser Kuo recently summed up this shift in his weekly column;
“China has only begun to actually think of itself as a superpower. I think historians will look back and see 2008 as an important inflection point, and 2017 perhaps as the year that China’s arrival as a superpower was generally acknowledged.”
Not only was it acknowledged abroad, but 2017 saw China’s superpower status embraced by its people; All predictions point to China overtaking the US economy as number one in 2032; China’s consumer confidence is riding at the highest since 2013; The Chinese passport is the strongest in ten years as countries keenly pursue the growing outbound tourist base; Where countries would yell and shout about China’s human rights record they now fall silent in fear of economic retribution, resulting in many cases of moral deference; Xi Jinping has vocally put his country at the forefront of globalization, seeing foreign leaders utter “now China leads” in the wake of America’s stagnation.
Brands and companies looking to understand their consumers must be aware of the shift in how Chinese see themselves, and the world outside of them. China’s rise mixed with a cultural belief that China is the centre of the universe and an increasingly controlled flow of information at the hands of censorship culminates in a unique and singular confidence shared by China’s people.
Approaching Chinese consumers with a ‘China-proud’ tact can be more than just emotionally valuable. China’s ‘red tourism’ industry is booming as old Communist Party stations and key PLA areas host surging numbers of visitors. ‘Wolf Warrior II” smashed all China’s box office records as a Chinese hero dismantling an American mercenary operation in Africa drew crowds that brokeout into the national anthem upon its closing image; a Chinese passport with the words, “Don’t give up if you run into danger abroad. Please remember, a strong motherland will always have your back.”
2018 will only see this sentiment grow in the hearts of China. With the Xi Era firmly in place, China’s consumers will be more sensitive to national affronts and eager to see their status respected.