May 21, 2012

Intelligent Sandwich Preparation

Tom Doctoroff, head of the J. Walter Thompson ad agency's China office, explains in the WSJ what he's learned from a couple of decades in China:
To win a following among Chinese buyers, brands have to follow three rules. First and most important, products that are consumed in public, directly or indirectly, command huge price premiums relative to goods used in private. The leading mobile phone brands are international. The leading household appliance brands, by contrast, are cheaply priced domestic makers such as TCL, Changhong and Little Swan. According to a study by the U.K.-based retailer B&Q, the average middle-class Chinese spends only $15,000 to fit out a completely bare 1,000-square-foot apartment. 
Luxury items are desired more as status investments than for their inherent beauty or craftsmanship. The Chinese are now the world's most avid luxury shoppers, at least if trips abroad to cities like Hong Kong and Paris are taken into account. ...
Public display is also a critical consideration in how global brands are repositioning themselves to attract Chinese consumers. Despite China's tea culture, Starbucks successfully established itself as a public venue in which professional tribes gather to proclaim their affiliation with the new-generation elite. Both Pizza Hut and Häagen Dazs have built mega-franchises in China rooted in out-of-home consumption. (The $5 carton of vanilla to be eaten at home is a tough sell in China.) 
The second rule is that the benefits of a product should be external, not internal. Even for luxury goods, celebrating individualism—with familiar Western notions like "what I want" and "how I feel"—doesn't work in China. Automobiles need to make a statement about a man on his way up. BMW, for example, has successfully fused its global slogan of the "ultimate driving machine" with a Chinese-style declaration of ambition. 
Sometimes the difference between internal versus external payoffs can be quite subtle. Spas and resorts do better when they promise not only relaxation but also recharged batteries. Infant formulas must promote intelligence, not happiness. Kids aren't taken to Pizza Hut so that they can enjoy pizza; they are rewarded with academic "triumph feasts." Beauty products must help a woman "move forward." Even beer must do something. In Western countries, letting the good times roll is enough; in China, pilsner must bring people together, reinforce trust and promote mutual financial gain. 
Emotional payoffs must be practical, even in matters of the heart. Valentine's Day is almost as dear to the Chinese as the Lunar New Year, but they view it primarily as an opportunity for men to demonstrate their worthiness and commitment. In the U.S., De Beers's slogan, "A Diamond is Forever," glorifies eternal romance. In China, the same tagline connotes obligation, a familial covenant—rock solid, like the stone itself. ... 
Chinese parents are drawn to brands promising "stealthy learning" for their children: intellectual development masked as fun. Disney will succeed more as an educational franchise—its English learning centers are going gangbusters—than as a theme park. McDonald's restaurants, temples of childhood delight in the West, have morphed into scholastic playgrounds in China: Happy Meals include collectible Snoopy figurines wearing costumes from around the world, while the McDonald's website, hosted by Professor Ronald, offers Happy Courses for multiplication. Skippy peanut butter combines "delicious peanut taste" and "intelligent sandwich preparation."

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

These were also common attitudes in Russia in the last years of communism.

Anonymous said...

It took him a couple of decades to learn that? It took me a three week visit to my in-laws and a couple of trips to a Chinese supermarket.

David said...

Eh gads how ghastly. Sounds like the worst aspects of America (meaningless competition and status-seeking, fanatical utilitarianism, and boastfully aggressive conformity) plus a dollop of Stakhanovism. Everything I moved to a small rural area to get away from and be a human being.

Brazilian said...

"boastfully aggressive conformity"

The most disturbing aspect of the American psyche...

Anonymous said...

So.......... the Chinese are cheap, highly status oriented, don't care about being happy, only spend money when they can get something in return, and make their kids study all the time.

Interesting.

Anonymous said...

Americans aren't conformist.

They also aren't especially status oriented, outside of the big cities and the coasts.

Anonymous said...

chinese porn:

me so learny, me so learny.
I study you long time.

Anonymous said...

The idea of American conformity isn't that novel. Tocqueville remarked upon it.

Educrat said...

Americans aren't conformist.

You must have been home-schooled.

SFG said...

This. Country. Is. So. Fucked.

Anonymous said...

So, to chinee, 'urban' mean big success in city , not big robbery in city.

Yanqui running dogs said...

Well, conformity seems to come in more than a few variants globally.

Mrs. Noh Nang Ning said...

So.......... the Chinese are cheap, highly status oriented, don't care about being happy, only spend money when they can get something in return, and make their kids study all the time.

You know what good time is? WINNING.

Anonymous said...

i'm genuinley curious how people call this country conformist. i always thought of americans as individualistic, at least in comprison to the rest of the world.

bluto said...

American's aren't very status oriented in the Midwest and Rocky mountain states, where Jante law or it's German equivalent is very dominant. They are on either coast, though the major status markers vary between the two coasts. Befriend an Indian sometime to see what a highly status oriented person looks like.

Steve Sailer said...

From the Tracey Ullman Show on HBO, at ice skating practice:

Nice white mom [sententiously]: "Well, we don't care about Henie winning … The important thing is that my daughter go out there and have a good time."

Mrs. Noh Nang Ning [fiercely]: "Me, too. I want niece to have good time. You know what good time is? Winning! …"

Mrs. Noh Nang Ning [encouraging her niece]: "You lose, you no come home!"

Nice white mom [aghast]: "How can you SAY that to a child?"

Mrs. Noh Nang Ning [dismissively]: "Good motivation. Kid no want to sleep in box on street. … You don't win, you nothing!"

Anonymous said...

I've met Tom Doctoroff, and heard him lecture at length on this topic. I live in Hong Kong, which of course is different from the mainland, but I'm convinced there is a great deal of accurate information packed into that short WSJ article.

The final paragraph is particularly important: "Material similarities between Chinese and Americans mask fundamentally different emotional impulses."

Many, many mistakes have been made by western companies and politicians who did not grasp this surprisingly profound axiom.

Davis said...

Professor Ronald didn't teach me what "urban" meant. Ouch!

Anonymous said...


Nice white mom [sententiously]: "Well, we don't care about Henie winning … The important thing is that my daughter go out there and have a good time."

Mrs. Noh Nang Ning [fiercely]: "Me, too. I want niece to have good time. You know what good time is? Winning! …"

Mrs. Noh Nang Ning [encouraging her niece]: "You lose, you no come home!"

Nice white mom [aghast]: "How can you SAY that to a child?"

Mrs. Noh Nang Ning [dismissively]: "Good motivation. Kid no want to sleep in box on street. … You don't win, you nothing!"


How times have changed.

Back in 1972 I can recall such a conversation, but reversed - between a nice Japanese mom and a bitchy greedy uptight WASP mom.

This Japanese family believed very strongly in letting their children be themselves, and in not conforming simply because white society would never accept them no matter how hard they try.

There was no pressure to study and get good grades because their kids were already smart and already got good grades. The son loved Star Trek and the parents saw nothing wrong with it. (The WASP kids called him "Mr. Sulu" for that.)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5/21/12 7:18 PM, I doubt whether white society will accept their progeny weighs too heavily in the concerns of real immigrant Chinese parents or Mrs. Noh Nang Ning. It's material success that counts. To a limited extent, you can buy your acceptance, if it is even felt to be needed.

Propeller Island said...

I wouldn't necessarily read too much into it. The Chinese, naturally, don't think about Western brands the way we do. For us, Starbucks is just Starbucks and McDonald's is just McDonald's. For the Chinese, these brands are the ambassadors of a prestigious foreign culture. Of course they are expected to do more than simply provide a burger or a cup of burned coffee.

Anonymous said...

"How times have changed.

Back in 1972 I can recall such a conversation, but reversed - between a nice Japanese mom and a bitchy greedy uptight WASP mom.

This Japanese family believed very strongly in letting their children be themselves, and in not conforming simply because white society would never accept them no matter how hard they try."

That's not a time difference, but a cultural difference. Chinese parents are about as nice as they've ever been, actually.
Japan doesn't have a "child prodigy culture" like alot of other Asian counties. Sure, they have a hypercompetitive college exam/cram school education system, but that was created only fifty-years ago-or-so, and most students subscribed to it out of necessity. Japanese parents generally push for top grades at school, however there is usually little pressure to bring home numerous trophies in piano playing contests etc., although conformity is strongly enforced.

Also, Japanese who move overseas are often trying to escape the stifling conformity of the home country.

Anonymous said...

Indirectly, by leaving the stifling conformity of Japan the emigrants make the remainder in Japan more conformist, since those who remain are that by definition.

Anonymous said...

Indirectly, by leaving the stifling conformity of Japan the emigrants make the remainder in Japan more conformist, since those who remain are that by definition.

The same could be said about western expatriates leaving the stifling conformity of their homelands.

Anonymous said...

American's aren't very status oriented in the Midwest and Rocky mountain states, where Jante law or it's German equivalent is very dominant.

"Status oriented" is a funny thing.

Japan and (maybe the Jante Law, relative to Anglo customs) seem like they have a motivation for everyone to seek average status, not purely a status climbing motivation, but still seem quite status motivated.

Status oriented is more about being oriented towards what others think of you, in public, not about climbing the ladder.

Anonymous said...

The HBD element here could be quite interesting.

Japanese and Taiwanese (?) don't seem as extreme in their concern for public status. Japanese have too much of a trend towards otaku-ism and Hikkikomorism and weird fashions and subcults for me to find that plausible (that they are as extreme as the Chinese). So I'd guess it's not that much of an East Asian racial thing. While Americans are at a Western extreme for individualism, if not low amounts of concern for status.

But still, I wonder if this might link in to the low extraversion and high neuroticism shown by East Asians in comparisons.

Extraverts just get more stimulation out of everything - they enjoy excitement and stimulation more, particularly being in groups and have more positive emotions.

Neurotics tend to have strong negative emotions.

So those would seem like they would create people who are very sensitive to social anxiety regarding status and don't really get as much personal visceral excitement out of life.

So the importance of signalling goods comes from both them not really enjoying products as much in themselves, and being more anxious about what others think.

Anonymous said...

This Japanese family believed very strongly in letting their children be themselves, and in not conforming simply because white society would never accept them no matter how hard they try.

Exactly. Asians are very keen on conforming and status seeking not because they are motivated by a low level of imagination (so just doing the conventional thing) or a particularly high degree of liking others (so thinking that the mass society must be right about everything) but by trying to alleviate their social anxieties, getting "society (to) accept them".

When it becomes clear that their social anxieties are too insurmountable to be dealt with this way (i.e. no one will approve of them, no matter how much they status seek or conform), Hikkikomorism is the result.

Anonymous said...

It seems like mass Chinese culture shares some similar values with upper middle class American culture. Both cultures are very much into self improvement. I think it was in a previous post you remarked about how upper middle class America doesn't have real hobbies because all activities even the supposedly fun ones are supposed to contribute somehow to growth in the end.

Simon in London said...

anon:
"Anonymous said...
i'm genuinley curious how people call this country conformist. i always thought of americans as individualistic, at least in comprison to the rest of the world."

Americans certainly seem very conformist compared to the English, IME (and in the experience of my American wife). There's very little tolerance for eccentricity in any American culture-group I've seen. Not as conformist as the Germans, Swedes or Swiss, maybe; about the same as the Norwegians, or possibly the French.

Simon in London said...

Status seeking is not the same as conformism, as has been noted.

Japanese and Germans, for instance, are conformist without being notably status-seeking.

American metropolitan upper middle class culture is very very status seeking compared to any Anglo or west-European culture I can think of, but about average for conformism.

From an Anglosphere perspective Americans' self-image as nonconformist seems pretty odd, though. The US is by far the most conformist Anglo nation. England and Australia are both vastly less conformist, I suspect even rural Ireland these days is less conformist than any US culture-group I can think of.

Luke Lea said...

Ferraris & lamborghinis seem to be especially big. I read about one extravaganza wedding recently in which the bride (or maybe it was the groom) received not one but six (!) identical red Ferraris, which were all parked in a row out in the parking lot where the wedding was held.

Svigor said...

In other words, the day their elite sells them out and decides to make non-Chinese-ness hip, and Chinese-ness square, they're all screwed.

dae chamberlin said...

Fascinating article. It seems that the best Sociology is now done by advertising executives. China reminds me of the USA in the 1950's when the materialistic quality of life rose very quickly just like it is in China today. Perhaps next they will go through their own kind of anti conformity rebellion as happened in the USA in the late sixties.

David said...

>Status oriented is more about being oriented towards what others think of you, in public, not about climbing the ladder<

There's status-seeking (social ambition), status-oriented (life revolves around one's competitive self-comparison to others), and status-concern.

Status-concern is inevitable on some level: one wants to believe one is doing well, and usu tests it by periodically looking around. But it's crazy-making when taken to the extreme. The extreme is status-oriented. Social ambition a conspicuous subset of status-oriented, which mixes in other things like greed and grandiosity.