While some choose to generalize and lump all Chinese into one big pool of “Confucian consumers,” others might say that to do so would be akin to corporate suicide (not to mention just plain stupid). For example most young Shanghainese want iPods and the latest mobile phones while their counterparts in Guangzhou would be happy with a nice mobile phone that doubles as an mp3 player. The expert in this interesting International Herald Tribune story calls the kids in Guangzhou “pragmatic cool.” We suppose youth in Shanghai are legitimately cool … or just rich and spoiled.
The story emphasizes that China is not the “homogenous” nation the ruling party projects itself as:
Critics dismiss this characterization. Geographical differences in attitudes like the ones toward the iPod in cities along China’s booming coastal zone reinforce what demographers, anthropologists and many Chinese have long known: There is no “one China.”
For merchants, and therefore for advertisers, there are many Chinas, perhaps as many as there are countries in Europe, specialists say. To succeed in China, advertisers need to take into account wide regional variations in language, temperament, income, culture, climate, diet, demographics and history, they say.
“The idea that the population labeled ‘Han Chinese’ is homogenous is a nationalist myth,” Human Rights in China said in a 2002 report. “Within this category there is enormous cultural and linguistic diversity.”
While foreign companies fare well in China’s “Tier 1” and “Tier 2” cities, there can be a disconnect when they try to enter cities labeled “Tier 3” and “Tier 4,” a fast-growing segment of the country where Chinese brands still appear to have an advantage. The ever-widening gap between rich and poor adds “another layer of complexity to existing regional differences.”
Said one expert: “The best advice I can give any new entrant in this market is research, research and research because it is so complex. You can’t walk down Nanjing Road in Shanghai and think that you understand China.”
And you can’t read one book and think you understand the place, either.
Also on Shanghaiist:
JWT’s ‘Twelve Facts About the Confucian Consumer’
Photo from ipodlounge.com.