Presentation for Ypulse Mashup Youth Marketing Conf: Building deeper connectin with China youth


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This is a presentation China Youthology did on the preconference ‘US & Global Youth & Youth Marketing’ of Ypulse Mashup 2010 in San Francisco.

With a 20-min speech, we talked about current youth marketing communication messages and how deeper cultural understanding of youth can lead to communication messages that resonate. The presentation is designed to give a big picture for an audience who have not came to China market before. If you care to know more nuances and deeper insights, you can check out:

Aside from the ‘dreams and desires’ of youth, it is equally important to understand the ‘anxieties and contradictions’. Insights into the macro context is especially critical to understand youth, especially in a fast-changing society.

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Presentation for Ypulse Mashup Youth Marketing Conf: Building deeper connectin with China youth

  1. Building deeper connection with China youth Presentation at Ypulse Mashup 2010 Preconference May 24, 2010 San Francisco
  2. Who We Are? 1.  We are China Youthology, the first youth-focused research-based consultancy in China. 2.  We are a group of young people. We grew up in China, We have experienced the rapid change of youth culture, as well as youth marketing in China. 3.  Most of our clients are international giant brands. They have come to China market for more than 10 years. They have achieved many success in China; they have tremendous experience with the local market.
  3. Diversified youth marketing practices in China 1.  Marketers in China are trying all new ways of marketing, incl. campus event, online ads, viral marketing, and social media 3
  4. The Challenge: catching the pulse of youth in a fast changing society 1.  Questions asked most from clients are: Chinese youth are changing too fast… I find it hard to catch up with them and catch attentions. Can you tell me where they are going to? Why are Chinese young consumers so not loyal to my brand? How can I build deeper connection with them? 2.  Yes youth change fast all over the world. In recent years, social media has completely changed their relationship with the brands. In China however, in addition to social media, the rapid growth of economy and the change of social scenes add to the complex of youth, and make it harder for marketers.
  5. To Tackle the Challenge: A holistic understanding of youth Social Understanding Culture Intelligence 1.  To tackle the challenge, we believe that research need to go deeper in a society as complicated and fast changing as China. We believe that youth can only be fully understood on the basis of a holistic understanding of them as human beings (rather than merely consumers) with long-term research. 2.  We base our research on sociology for a macro perspective and framework to understand the societal changes and the influence on youth. 3.  We draw from anthropology for methodologies of immersing in the youth community and decoding meanings of their behaviors. Online and offline, we are with the youth all the time.
  6. What do China youth want ? 6
 1.  As just mentioned, youth marketing in China are in a great diversity of forms. Today we don’t want to talk about the forms or channels, but focus on the message of communication. 2.  I would like to share with you some marketing practices in China, and update you with some fundamental changes of youth. I’ll also talk about how should brands learn from the changes in youth culture and build deeper connection with China youth.
  7. Most commonly used communication message: 1. an ‘aspirational life’ 1.  In China there has been two dominant communication messages: one is aspirational life, the other is individuality. Today we would like to re-investigate these two messages and discuss directions for building deeper connection. 2.  Let’s look at the first one first, aspirational life, or Status.
  8. A 30-year dream about ‘decent life’ constructed by ideology, economy, and market Deng Xiaoping: ‘To get rich is glorious.’ 1.  The message of status is well rounded from a macro perspective: 30 years ago Deng Xiaoping opened the door of China and declared that ‘to get rich is glorious’. The double digit GDP growth poses no doubt to Chinese people about a long-term, steady and rapid growth of economy. In the 90s, international brands came to China and brought consumeristic dreams to Chinese people. 2.  Youth’s dreams are constructed around consumeristic aspirations. Asked about dreams, many would answer ‘a house and a car’. 3.  Communication of aspirational life has worked well, and will continue to work for majority of Chinese consumers. But it couldn’t enable deep connection. Young people find low attachment to the brands and switch to other aspirations very easily. Source: Der Spiegel
  9. However… Dreams getting bitter in past 5 years – the unachievable ‘basics’ Bye-bye my big city dream! 1.  For the brands who care to establish strategic advantage through building deeper connection with Chinese youth, it is crucial to understand what’s changing in the recent years. 2.  Until recently the young generation have been VERY optimistic about realizing their dreams. 3.  However in the past couple of years, property price soured to sky, social mobility decreased, job market became more difficult… Chinese economical structure is facing reformation. Great majority of young working adults realized their dreams are hardly achievable. Even for those who can afford a property on installment, they found their disposable income decreased. University students are confused and lost. Hottest youth sitcom Dwelling Narrowness represented living conditions and anxieties of the young generation today. 4.  The hottest youth sitcom
  10. Feeling defeated and insecure photo from flickr; by Adrian Fisk, iSpeak China 1.  In a society where belief system is dominated by consumeristic aspirations, failure to achieve material success means a complete failure of life. 2.  The generation feel defeated and insecure.
  11. Responding youth culture Picture from <0086> 1.  The youth still find aspirational images attractive, but they start to look for something to solve the contradictions between dreams and realties.
  12. Constructing a private warm space: Increasing ‘healing style’ cultural consumption Japanese Chinese mainstream Chinese grass-roots Sakamoto
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 1.  Youth look for solutions to mental balance. They are consuming more cultural products in the style that they would call ‘healing style’. ‘Healing style’ movies, songs, books, and products give them the feeling of warmth, affiliation, and love.
  13. Most shared video on SNS 1.  We expected to see the response from brands. But the brands haven’t followed yet in mainland. On the Chinese SNS, one of the top ranking videos is a TV commercial from Taiwan. It tells a story of a young girl who does not have a successful career nor a rich boyfriend. But she enjoys finding the peacefulness and happiness in the moments of her plain life.
  14. Seeking encouragement / ‘survival training’ 1.  Aside from comfort, youth are looking for the power to hold on to their dreams. 2.  There are many brand campaigns in universities, however the one mentioned by most of the youth we met is the campaigns by P&G on practical career training and dream empowerment.
  15. Most shared video on SNS 1.  Again not many reactions from youth brands yet. Youth found Pantene’s TV commercial from Thailand and shared it many times to the top ranking list. It is about a story of a blind girl. She made it to realize her dream disregard all the obstacles. 2.  You may find it interesting that Chinese youth are looking for content outside of the country. Yes they do.
  16. Returning home 1.  Last but not least, youth return to family now. Both financially and mentally, they need the support from family and relationship
  17. Take-outs: -  Aspirational image/life still works -  But brands need to understand frustrations under the changing macro context -  Learning from the youth culture, brands should provide relief, reassurance, and encouragement. youth in Jilin; photo by Go Takayama
  18. Most commonly used communication message: 2. ‘Individuality’ photo by fangfang 1.  The second most commonly used communication message is individuality, or uniqueness. 2.  In China individuality became part of agenda of youth only in the recent 30 years. After the open door of China, youth for the first time was imprisoned from the collective ideology. They have suddenly got the space to define who they are through the everyday choices. 3.  The whole idea of individuality is coming from the west.. Chinese youth firstly learned to find the uniqueness in themselves from the western culture and consumption of international brands.
  19. Brands as leaders of yesterday, and followers of today 1.  At the beginning, anything that the international brands introduced to China was considered as cool and differentiating. 2.  In the recent years, Internet exposed Chinese youth to extremely diversified options and equipped them with capabilities and platforms of self-expression. 3.  Brands started to echo the youth popular culture communicate individuality. From hip-hop dancing, graffiti art, to animation and gaming, to talent show… all of these elements are used in hope to resonate with youth’s pursuit of individuality. 4.  However most of the brands catch on the cool elements without a real understanding the cultural meanings. Brands become the 19 followers of Chinese youth today. And youth found the commercial campaigns less and less attractive.
  20. Individuality evolving from coolness to substance •  Who I am •  What I do •  What I believe 1.  What should brands do then? Again, it is time to understand youth as human beings rather than only as consumers because construction of individuality has gone beyond consumption and mass media entertainment. 2.  Listen to the voice that youth are trying to make. Understand that the identity construction of Chinese youth is changing from what I have to who I am, what I do, and what I believe. 3.  Today we are going to talk about 3 major trends of evolving individuality.
  21. new citizen: Speak out and participate in social development 1.  The first trend’ is ‘new citizen’. Chinese youth are re-investigating their relationship with the environment. 2.  If you check the sns today, among the hottest topics are always social issues. 3.  In the events of Olympic, Sichuan earthquake, environmental issues, and social injustice in the past 2 years, the youth generation acted as volunteers, critics, evangelists, and participants. 4.  The economic development has enabled some young people the ‘luxury’ of caring about things outside their own living conditions. And the Internet has empowered youth to express opinions, exchange ideas, form communities, and make difference. 5.  The motivation behind social participation is not conformity as in the past, but individualistic choice to search for meaning of life.
  22. ‘Climbing over the wall’ and defending for private space 1.  New citizen is more than charity. 2.  The increasingly aggressive Internet censorship has triggered more critical thoughts from the youth. 3.  In the recent 2 years, more and more international and local sites are completely or partially censored in China, including youtube, twitter, google, and the Chinese versions of these… Chinese youth speak out to oppose the censorship through creative works, and find their ways to walk around Great fire wall. 4.  Youth become more conscious about defending for their private space and personal rights. They desire to search for truth.
  23. New idol: speaking out truth, critical minds, defend for freedom Han Han ranked 2nd in ‘2010 ‘citizen Han Han’ on CN Time 100 poll’ for most news weekly influential people of the year’ 1.  Today, Han Han is the new idol of Chinese youth. He’s a writer and professional race-car driver. He is a harsh critic on the social issues. His blog has more than 300 million accumulative clicks. It is one of the hottest blogs in China. 2.  There are many CSR campaigns in China today. But most of them are seen as ‘dumping money for reputation’. It’s not about how much money you donate, but about your opinions about the reality and actions to make things better. 3.  Youth are voicing out for their opinions about reality. Similar for brands, it’s nothing cool to be cool per se but to have an attitude.
  24. Brands haven’t echoed precisely 1.  Some local brands signed Han Han as spokesperson. But they don’t seem to understand what Han Han stand for to Chinese youth. International brands are even slower to catch on the pulse. 2.  There are many CSR campaigns in China today. But most of them are seen as ‘dumping money for reputation’. It’s not about how much money you donate, but about your opinions about the reality and actions to make things better. 3.  Youth are voicing out for their opinions about reality. Similar for the brands, it’s nothing cool to be cool per se but to have an attitude.
  25. New Chinese: national pride and generational pride 1.  Through social participation, Chinese youth are re-defining their relationship with the environment. 2.  Now let’s look at how they are re-defining who they are through Chinese identity and generational identity. 3.  The young generation in China’s big cities has grown up with KFC, Coca-Cola, Hollywood movies, Japanese animations and games … they are very much westernized. But many have started to look back to China’s heritage for inspiration.
  26. Cultural pride and reborn of ‘local’ 1.  The recognition of Chinese identity is strongly manifested among mass youth as national pride. 2.  They are becoming more interested in traditional culture. 3.  Old and local brands are reborn and considered authentic and fashionable.
  27. Localization of international brands Pepsi ‘Dare to be Red for China’ 1.  Many international brands have reacted to the national pride. Some received good feedback.
  28. Generational pride 1.  What’s less known by brands is the generational pride. 2.  The undercurrent: the young generation don’t agree with some of the values of the older generation, but they don’t have the power to change reality. So they need to find recognition from their peers and claim pride by celebrating their collective memories. 3.  The vintage trend is a voice against the over-materialistic society. 2 8
  29. 1.  Local brands react to this mood better than the international brands. We’ve shared the case of Lining last year. Recently MetersBonwe, a local fashion brand, released a series of t-shirt in the theme of collective memory. All t-shirts are designed with local animation characters in 80s. This series sold well. 28
  30. ‘expert-consumers’ and New Geek: ‘cultural influencers’ ‘To
 1.  We’ve just talked about youth social participation, and identity pride. Today individuality is more than being cool, but about what you believe and who you are. The other way to confirm individuality through what you do. 2.  Let’s see the 3rd trend of ‘individuality’, ‘new geek’. 3.  In the past youth want to be expressive about who they are by putting on visible cool symbols in appearance. But today it’s much cooler to possess capabilities/knowledge as the ‘alternative experts’ on something. 4.  Internet is the major enabler not only for deepened and communitized learning, but also for providing a platform for talent – talent and beliefs are new social currencies.
  31. Geeky consumers and opinion leaders 1.  Some mass youth turned into geeky smart consumers. They have strong influence on their peers on purchase decisions through offline and online interactions. There are geeks on mobile phones, sneakers, skincare, etc. 2.  The geeky consumers even became grassroots sellers on, the Chinese equivalent of Ebay. They source good products and share their knowledge about the category with the online buyers. Young consumers come to them not only for purchasing but also for learning.
  32. Surging creative culture and new influencers Snapshots of creative works of Chinese youth, pictures from Neocha Edge 1.  The more cutting-edge youth are geeking out in their areas of passions. This has become one of the drivers for the surge of creative culture in China.
  33. Leverage grass-roots creative culture 1.  While most of the brands are still wait and see if the local creative culture is mature and influential enough. Converse, Nike, and Swatch started to build connection with the creative community through empowerment. 2.  What we are seeing is that youth creative culture is coming into shape in China today. It’s time for brands to leverage them to connect with youth. 3.  There has been a doubt on the influence of the creative culture on mass youth. It’s time to re-evaluate the cliché that China youth all follow mass media and mainstream celebrities, especially for top tier city youth.
  34. Take-outs: -  Individuality is evolving from surface to substance -  Youth are re-investigating their relationship with the environment, the answer to who they are, and they are voicing out -  Brands should start building their identities with the richness through listening to and leveraging the youth culture
  35. Thank you!