With over a month since inauguration day, we can all agree that the Donald Trump administration has been anything but routine. Although threats of tariffs and the ensuing trade war remain unrealised, the ripples of Trump’s tumultuous tenure have reached Chinese shores. As history tells us, when fluctuations in Chinese consumer sentiment materialise, the resultant effect on trade can be “yuge”.
Chinese consumers’ sensitivity to geopolitical issues cannot be understated. In the wake of the Diaoyu Islands dispute in September 2012 Japanese brands felt the full force of this phenomenon. Japan’s top three auto companies saw their sales plummet 35%-49% y.o.y. in a market that was growing overall. South Korea is currently dealing with a similar backlash. With news of the THAAD missile deployment reverberating throughout China, state media has called for a boycott of South Korean goods, with Lotte hit particularly hard.
America’s soft power has long been its greatest asset for many of its exporters, so China Skinny teamed up with Findoout in a joint study to quantify how this has been impacted by Trump after his first month as President. The survey of 2,000 consumers across China found that 41.2% of Chinese had a more negative view of America than before he was president with 8.1% more positive and 50.7% neutral.
The categories most negatively impacted were investing in U.S. property and stocks, travelling to America, and studying there, with a net 17.7%, 13.9% and 10.0% of consumers respectively. Whilst the U.S. education industry benefitted from the 329,000 Chinese students who studied in America last academic year, and the travel industry from the 3 million Chinese tourists, countless other exporters benefitted from food to fashion to Fords. Many Chinese students and visitors develop an affinity with US brands; sharing them on social media, giving them as gifts, promoting them through the daigou trade and buying them after returning to the Mainland. It’s in America’s interest to ensure they hold favour with Chinese students and tourists.
Nevertheless, Trump hasn’t been all bad news for American exporters. Of the 15 categories we evaluated, Chinese were more positive about four of them: movies (11.8%), music (5.4%), media (3.5%) and sport (1.5%). It appears Trump has piqued curiosity among Chinese consumers and increased interest in American culture overall.
In an obscure way, this could help American brands who understand these motivations and can tailor their marketing mix to them. Hyatt did great job of tapping into Chinese consumers’ interest in Hollywood. Utilising commercial breaks during the Oscars they launched their 12-month campaign all-the-while cleverly highlighting that they don’t agree with some of Trump’s policies – hence the theme song, “What the world needs now is love”. China is a main focus of the campaign. Agencies such as China Skinny can ensure that you understand and appeal to Chinese consumers too. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.