Tom Doctoroff

What are the fundamental differences between Chinese and Western consumers, wonders Shanghai-based advertising expert Tom Doctoroff in a wide-ranging interview with ChinaSmack.

There are two key differences. First, all benefits in China are externalized; Chinese egos are huge — I always say every Chinese has a dragon in his or her heart — and they demand societal acknowledge for their contributions to and success within society. They are not individualistic in a Jeffersonian sense as are Westerners, who respond, in many cases, to “internalized” benefits.

Luxury goods, for example, are a tool for career advancement in China. In the West, they are often appreciated for their own intrinsic quality. In shower gel, the leading Western brands have “sensual indulgence” as a core proposition. In the PRC, the key benefit is “an energizing shower experience that helps me start the day with a kick”. Sometimes, this difference can be quite subtle. Europeans go to spas to relax. Chinese go to recharge batteries.

Second, there is absolutely, positively no cynicism towards brands in China. As said above, they are vital tools of advancement. Furthermore, in a constricted mass media environment and a society with a narrow definition of success, brands are the most powerful badges of identity.

Brand communications is, by far, the freest form of expression and, for that reason, beloved. Of course, the Chinese are suspicious shoppers — they don’t take quality for granted to reassurance in terms of both quality and impact on image is critical — but there isn’t cynicism. We have not entered a post-modern communications era here, and I doubt we will, given fundamental role brands play in consumers’ identities.

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Tom Doctoroff is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch.

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