SHANGHAI — China’s 500 million-strong population under the age of 30 are the subject of a new marketing guide from author Mary Bergstrom.
As an American marketing expert with years of experience researching China’s youth market, “All Eyes East: Lessons From the Front Lines of Marketing to China’s Youth” is a how-to guide that demystifies the categories, subcategories, culture and subcultures of one of the world’s most influential consumer markets. The book was released in the United States on March 27 and will land in Europe on April 27.
“Young people are in a different position, a more powerful position, in China than they are in other places,” Bergstrom told WWD. “Consumption-wise, if you want to understand where China’s going to go in the future, you need to understand the people who are really consuming and communicating in their communities.”
As a generation of only children, or “Little Emperors,” China’s youth often might not look or dress all that differently from their Western counterparts, but their motivations and position at the forefront of a nation in the throes of ceaseless change make them a whole new category of consumer.
“The fact that they don’t have any siblings, the fact that they are growing up in an economy where the pressure is always on them, in terms of their own family but also the nation, and also they are really the pioneers of development. There’s a crux that occurs in China that doesn’t happen anywhere else,” Bergstrom said.
According to Bergstrom, the identity of these future superconsumers is evolving so rapidly, any attempt on the part of international brands to import a tried-and-tested marketing strategy from elsewhere directly into China will not be accepted by China’s youth.
“I could have retitled the book ‘Flexibility.’ That’s really what’s been missing from a lot of international brands’ marketing strategies. The equation should be: What are the brand values you bring to the table and how do you need to configure those values so that you have the most impact with your consumer base?” Bergstrom said. “You might mean one thing outside China, but to mean the same thing inside China, you might need to construct a different story to ultimately get to the same message.”
To illustrate this idea, Bergstrom pointed to Volkswagen. The car company recently made two ads demonstrating the value of a new model. The U.S. version made its point by showing executives being criticized for putting a car on the market that was too cheap, considering its many features. In China, the same message was conveyed with a wife chastising her husband because she assumed he must have spent a lot of money on a new car.
“You need to have the stories differentiated to create the same message, or the same appreciation of value in those two markets,” Bergstrom said.
One of the major aims of “All Eyes East” is to define the subcategories of Chinese youth for international readers who might not be familiar with the major differences between the country’s post-Eighties (people born after 1980) and post-Nineties (those born after 1990) generations. These groupings are widely used in China and, most important, are embraced by young people themselves.
China’s youth overwhelmingly see themselves as sharing attributes and common experiences with their own generation and differentiate themselves from those born in a different generation, even if the age gap is only a few years.
“One of the most striking differences [between Chinese and Western youth] is that young Chinese people self-identify with those groups. In other countries, you wouldn’t hear somebody say, ‘I’m very Gen-X,’ and you certainly wouldn’t have someone wearing a T-shirt that says, ‘I’m Gen-Y,’” Bergstrom said.
In terms of luxury goods, Bergstrom struggles to come up with examples of international brands that have done a great job of marketing to China’s youth. International heritage stories in particular fail to resonate on a personal level with younger consumers in the country.
“Luxury brands are feeling some pain right now in terms of understanding that the largest potential luxury market is within China and the story they have created outside of China isn’t something that they can just import directly, because young Chinese people don’t necessarily have the same sense of historical connection,” she said.
One potential exception featured in “All Eyes East” is Shang Xia, the Chinese luxury brand backed by Hermès. This homegrown, foreign-backed hybrid broke into the Chinese market by building a contextual foundation in order to give Chinese consumers a sense of shared history. The focus of its products, which include tea sets, furniture, apparel and jewelry, is to emphasize a heritage linked to the brand’s traditionally Chinese concept of luxury and craftsmanship.
@tradesy is turning the concept of a showroom upside down with its new space in Santa Monica. Here, the company plans to hold events, art exhibits and a showcase rare fashion pieces like this Louis Vuitton boxing set. Get all the details on Tradesy’s first showroom on WWD.com. #wwdnews
Spotted last night at the @erdem x @hm launch event: Kate Bosworth, Rashida Jones, Kirsten Dunst and Selma Blair. The party, which took place in LA, also marked the opening of their pop-up shop. “I was interested in creating a collection that wasn’t in any way disposable. It was about pieces you’d create and keep forever, things that have a permanence to it,” designer Erdem Moralioglu said. #wwdeye (📷: Katie Jones)
Renee Zellweger in yellow in 2001 and again in 2017. Chosen as one of the 12 @pantone Leading Spring Colors (and dubbed “Meadowlark”), it only makes sense that the bright hue stands the test of time and is making a resurgence this season, seen already on stars like @blakelively and @gigihadid. (📷: Donato Sardello & @rexfeatures) #wwdfashion #tbt
Dior’s 70th anniversary celebration continues with a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Christian Dior,” which is scheduled to run through March 18, takes a look at the founders tenure from 1947 to 1057 and feature 40 designs. Pictured here is an evening gown from the Ailée, fall 1948-49 haute couture collection. #wwdfashion (📷: Brian Boyle)
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews