John Jay has an unusual monthly commute: As executive creative director and partner of Wieden + Kennedy, he divides his time between offices in Portland, Ore., Tokyo and Shanghai. Grueling, yes, but mandatory, too, Jay said, because of Asia's increasing importance in global affairs.
"After 500 years of Western control of the world, the 21st century will see a shift in the balance of power from the Atlantic to the Pacific," he said, noting that the World Bank projects that by 2020 the seven richest countries in the world will be China, the U.S., Japan, a united Korea, Indonesia, India and Germany.
Using those statistics as a platform, Jay delivered an address that looked at the psychological and cultural drivers in China and Japan — factors that many Western companies fail to take into account when they enter a country, he said.
Jay began with China, noting that by 2014, the Chinese will have "displaced the consumer as the engine of growth in the world economy." Despite its increasing dominance on the world scene, though, "little is known of what motivates and drives the Chinese consumer," he said. "Cultural knowledge is critical for building iconic brands, and yet it's sorely lacking in most managers' arsenals. Rather, such knowledge requires the managers to develop new skills."
What's particularly important to take into account is how quickly consumer attitudes are developing, Jay said, noting that for the first time ever, young people in China now have options and opinions. He likened the rapid pace of change in China to compressing 400 years of Western civilization into 40, adding that there has been a convergence of global taste-makers in the country, bringing with them incredible surges of creativity.
Further complicating matters is that every generation and geographic region in China is different, and the dilemma for marketers is clear: "As I watch my clients coming into the country, the difference between cultural arrogance and cultural ignorance is not that big," Jay said. "The challenge is to innovate by learning from the world, and competitive advantage in the future will come from discovering, accessing, mobilizing and leveraging knowledge from many locations around the world."
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