Your Branding Must Resonate Twice in China

July 17, 2013

Chinese behaviors and consumption patterns’ evolution attests insurance, optimism (despite caution) self-consciousness, consciousness of their own history, of brands, and more assertive financial means. The Chinese consumer is not a mutant, the changes we see on his expectations / requirements are just in “Fast Forward” mode- 3/4 years when we’re used to +/- 10 years cycles

Let’s have a look at the situation and implications for marketing professionals, as the market matures, competition is exacerbated, and mistakes more costly than ever. Interview with Laurence Lim-Dally*, Founder of Cherry Blossoms, Market research&consulting – Hong Kong

Laurence, what has changed in 10 years, 5 years, or the past 18 months, on localization marketing issues in China (clients objectives, problematics ). Are there any strong trends?

The objectives of Western brands have clearly evolved, mainly because the mentality has changed.
Ten years ago, China was a terra incognita to conquer: store names mainly sought to plant their flag to make themselves known and to let Chinese consumers marvel at Western brands and products – because coming from the West.

Since 5 years, a Copernican revolution has taken place: the “Western-centrism” is no longer the rule and brands are questioning more systematicly and thoroughly on how they are perceived in China.
Beyond understanding problems (translation) and aesthetic dissonance (sometimes divergent standards of beauty), luxury brands are now questioning how values they convey, are resonating. Let’s take for example the latest Louis Vuitton video campaign, L’Invitation au voyage. Arizona Muse, american model, short squared hair, dressed in a simple black top and skirt, gets a secret message and flies away in a balloon, letting her opponent (or pretender) helplessly to the ground. The brand is aware that the image of a modern woman, emancipated, both identificatory and aspirational, doesn’t please all Chinese women today (Beijing vs. Shanghai, cities of first tiers vs. second tiers). Five years ago, this question would probably not have been raised

Kering-KaiYunAnother change example: the PPR group, which not only translates its name – Kering – in Chinese, but more importantly, officially and simultaneously presents it with its Western name. Beyond the political message, it’s also significant a financial Group of this calibre, takes a poetic and auspicious name, Kai Yun (开 云), which means “opening the clouds” (image of a sky cleared) to translate metaphorically for the Chinese, a core value of the group: imagination

Are these the same issues as we speak of luxury brands, food, or sportswear or “fast fashion” (Zara. ..)?

Luxury brands were probably the last bastion of a certain cultural autarky, with a tendency to sanctify their history and geography, and make essential a French identity, an Italian identity, etc.













The taboo seems to fall for good: this year, Tiffany & Co, for the first time, displays a Chinese celebrity – Liu Wen, along with Arizona Muse; and Cartier choosed a Taiwanese actress, Michelle Chen, in its film “Cartier Destiny”. In comparison, Nike endorsed Chinese athlete and Olympic champion Liu Xiang, more than 10 years ago..

If we look at the food industry, beyond communication, product adaptation is older and widespread, because it’s more difficult to change consumers’ culinary tastes than aesthetic tastes. KFC has long been successfully adapting its products (congee, chicken rice, etc..), as Lay’s (Pepsi Group Co), leading chips brand in China, with its flavors “sour fish soup and spicy “or” cucumber “.

Can we say we are entering a mature phase, with some fundamentals, which are solid benchmarks for brands already in China and those who consider to enter the market ? If yes, which are they?

Some fundamentals are now widely recognized: a Chinese name, possibly resort to local ambassadors. These issues are no longer debated as a few years ago.

Yet we are in midstream:
– Most of Western brands consider more and more the Chinese perspective in their marketing strategy …
– … but do it for most of them downstream, often after a few mistakes and then consider adaptation as a constraint, instead of integrating the Chinese perspective upstream – in their brand platform

Create a double resonance – with the brand identity and with the Chinese sensitivity and spirit remains a challenge for many Western brands.

BlancpainLet’s take the launch by Swiss watchmaker Blancpain, in 2012, of a watch combining Gregorian calendar and Chinese lunisolar calendar. This watch, beyond the technical sophistication and its aesthetic qualities, remains of a relatively low practical interest for the Chinese, few decipher the traditional Chinese calendar, a fortiori with bloated and complex indicators.

Another example is the video animation L’Odyssée de Cartier – globally acclaimed in China – spectacular allegory that traces the brand expansion in time and space, through the journey of a panther. The representation of China, by a dragon, is paradoxically disturbing for a number of Chinese. Although widely sinicized (anguiliforme body scales, no wings, long whiskers), the Dragon by Cartier would keep the evil and threatening aspect of a western dragon, while it is a noble and auspicious animal in China

Dragon-Paolo Ucello

Saint Georges defeating the dragon Paolo Uccello, 1430

Cartier Odyssée

Which brands have successfuly integrated this localization, and why ?

Pepsi, for example, manages to perfectly preserve the aspirationel character of a Western brand and create a strong emotional connection with Chinese consumers. Beyond the fact that Pepsi was one of the first American brand to enter the Chinese market thirty years ago, the brand has created a deep resonance in China.

His mini-film “Bringing Happiness Home”, first released for 2011 Chinese New Year, epitomizes this success. First, it is a “real” movie with real actors – hyper well known in China, a real narrative in which products are subtly integrated. But beyond that, the argument of the film (three children who find it difficult to return to their father’s home for Chinese New Year), has touched many young people – torn between traditional values ​​centered on family and contemporary values ​​(represented in the film through the picture of the life of three children, open to the West, ambitious and talented, successful in creative industries, etc..).

Pepsi – Bringing Happiness Home – December 2011

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Also Pepsi – Bringing Happiness Home – December 2012

Celebrity endorsement plays an important role in brand awareness / advocacy, and this is even more true in China: is it necessary today, more than ever, to favor Chinese personalities to attract the Chinese? Aren’t there other criterias to take into account, such as Tiers?

There is now a mirror phenomenon today: Western brands are always more numerous to choose Chinese ambassadors or models … and Chinese brands to use Western models.
With such jamming codes, the issue will soon not to choose a Chinese or Western ambassador, but the person that best resonates – with both the brand identity and the Chinese reception, attentive not only to standards of beauty, personality, but also the values ​​held by local ambassadors.


Today, the choice of Chinese muses is still largely based on awareness. For example, Liu Wen – became a star model in China -endorses Tiffany & Co this year, in a “royal” pose, but also poses for H & M, in a more “rock” style. Also, despite her prestige and extreme popularity in China, her face does not match exactly with Chinese aesthetic ideals (assertive look, angular face, eyes slightly slanted to the Chinese who value big eyes).

In the long term, it is likely that the awareness effect supremacy fades, first in large cities, as Chinese consumers expectations for brand differentiation, grow


What are the golden rules of a good localization strategy ?

– The first rule would be to consider the Chinese perspective upstream and globally (communication, product, point of sale, packaging etc..) in brand strategies
– The second would be to evaluate and ensure brand’s resonance with, on one side, the deep brand identity – their history, knowledge, values, personality – and on the other, with the spirit and sensitivity of Chinese consumers – their way of decoding a message, their aesthetic criterias, moral and spiritual values.
– Finally, consider localization, not as a constraint but as a cathartic exercise, an opportunity for brands to decentralize, and look deep inside themselves, what would likely resonate for the Chinese.

First published on Influencia:

Laure de Carayon, Founder of China Connect

* Laurence was speaker at China Connect 2011 & 2013




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