Tag Archives: Luxury Brand

Social media censorship in China and what it means for Western Brands

For brands operating in China’s vast and complex social media landscape, one thing that can’t be avoided is the government’s almost pathological tendency to censor content.

Social-Media-censorship-in-china
(photo via vpnfor.us)

Generating a marketing campaign that gets China’s 600 million online population talking about your brand can have dire consequences – if you get it wrong. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have all been banned by the authorities and LinkedIn’s new Beta platform, launched in China last month, has had to agree to government restrictions to gain a licence to operate.

Whilst brands may be able to monitor their own content, they don’t have much control over what people say once their message is out there. Many popular brands use well-known Chinese celebrities to promote their products and these Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) can also get on the wrong side of government restrictions that can often seem as confusing as they are censorial.

Actress Yao ChenActress Yao Chen, the face of Tourism New Zealand in China, became entangled in a political protest when she quoted Solzhenitsyn to her 33 million Sina Weibo followers in support of freedom of the press. The quote: One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world, didn’t sit well with the government censors.
To some, China’s censorship can seem complicated and often random.

“Last year, TV regulators restricted popular genres such as dating, variety and talent shows as part of a crackdown on “overly entertaining” programming. They also banned commercials during dramas, one of the most popular formats in China. No explanation was given for the rules and ad prices soared as supplies decreased overnight.” Anita Chang Beattie, Ad Age (http://adage.com/article/global-news/censorship-china-media-marketers/239187/)

Social Media Revolution China Of more concern to Western brands may be the ever changing list of government censored words and phrases ranging from the “Dalai Lama” and “evolution” to “instant noodles”. It may sound strange to the outside world, but there is reasoning behind these bans, mostly to do with the desire to reduce dissent.
Banning of words can often happen swiftly and without warning but they can also be reinstated just as quickly and mysteriously. In 2012 it was reported that the word Ferrari was banned following the death of a son of an ex-aide to the former Chinese President Hu Jintao. In February this year a similar thing happened with another Ferarri belonging to yet another member of China’s young elite.

Luxury brands, for so long the success story for Western endeavours in China, haven’t been exempt from government bans either. In 2013 there was a blanket ban on advertising for those who promote “incorrect values and help create a bad social ethos”.

WeiboThe Jing Daily quoted at the time: “As such, radio and television stations have been ordered to pull any advertisements that promote extravagant gift-giving — i.e., “waste” — for items such as high-end watches, rare stamps and gold coins.” 

This followed on from a ban of advertising in outdoor spaces that promoted “hedonistic or high-end lifestyles”. Fortunately for luxury brands, this ban did not extend to digital platforms where most of their affluent fans do their shopping.

While brands can often be caught unawares by Chinese censorship, there is still hope that the rise of social media and the increased use of smartphones is going someway to devalue the government’s attempts to control what its people see and say.

In the meantime, brands need to have one eye on current censorship trends if they want to avoid wasting their marketing budget on campaigns that don’t pass an often inscrutable set of censorship rules.

Luxury brands blaze a trail for social media in China

Luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and jeweller David Yurman have all used Valentine’s Day as a reason to launch social media campaigns in China these last few weeks and their approach should act as a guiding light for other brands looking to establish themselves in China.

The reason for their success?
The increasing growth of China’s affluent rich – those richer than the middle class but not so well-off as the super rich.
“Today, the affluent are 120 million strong and their annual buying power is $590 biliion. By 2020, this group will number 280 million – 35 percent of China’s urban population or 20 percent of its total population.” The Age of the Affluent by The Boston Consulting Group (http://www.bcg.com/media/PressReleaseDetails.aspx?id=tcm:12-121760)
Lancome Feb14 Lancome, for Valentine’s this year, launched a competition on micro-blogging site Weibo, asking fans to send in love poems for their partners, with those who shared or tagged entered into a free draw for luxury gifts. Audi and Swiss watch brand Tag Hever ran similar ‘send a message to your partner’ campaigns.
Luxury brands are way ahead of others in their approach to social media and e-commerce in China. They work hard to build relationships and interact with their consumers, aided by the rapid growth of smartphone usage and building on their own international reputations and brand desirability. They are purveyors of the must-have Western products that the affluent, seeking status and recognition, desire above all else.
The Chinese affluent are seen as sophisticated e-consumers who like to travel abroad and who are more open to adopting a new brand. According to Youchi Kuo, co-author of the BCG report, learning to sell your brand to this community will also have a knock on effect at home: “By mastering the affluent market in China, which appreciates luxury but is also conscious of value, companies will be better equipped to reach their local affluent customers.”
But it is the way that luxury brands interact with their fan base which can inform new social media campaigns – understanding the Chinese consumer psyche and how they interact on platforms such as Weibo and WeChat. They use social networking a lot, more than we do in the West. One of the clear distinctions between China’s affluent and those in the West is the age. The Chinese affluent are much younger and tend to trust foreign brands more than those from home.
However within this large group there are factions that see the world in different ways and the challenge for marketing executives is to target the right people and not waste their marketing budget on a one size fits all solution. For example, there are sections of the Chinese affluent who want a status symbol while others look to hide their wealth.
“One of the clearest factors distinguishing China’s wealthy consumers from their foreign counterparts is their youth: some 80 percent are under 45 years of age, compared with 30 percent in the United States and 19 percent in Japan.”

(http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/marketing_sales/understanding_chinas_wealthy)