Tom Doctoroff

Uncertainty about what might happen tomorrow triggers off China’s high savings rate, a dilemma for marketeers and China’s government alike, explains marketing guru Tom Doctoroff in Adage.


Tom Doctoroff, JWT‘s North Asia CEO and a popular China commentator, explained a typical Chinese outlook: “People don’t assume they’re safe. That’s why Chinese are ruthless savers — 35% to 40% of annual income — because they have to save for a rainy day. In the upper tiers, there’s more optimism that you can transform your life if you’re smart enough. Mass-market consumers are starting to believe in a better tomorrow — but this is a very precarious hope, based on nothing going wrong.”

Mr. Doctoroff laid out a few rules for success in marketing in the lower tiers.

Protection trumps projection. Safety, stability and order are crucial. He cited ads for childrens’ products: A spot aimed at consumers in a lower tier promotes a milk brand as protecting a child against sickness. A similar product in tier one is all about enhancement, helping a child be smarter and taller.

Conformity counts. Family comes first, and fitting into society trumps standing out. Mr. Doctoroff quoted a Chinese saying: “The leading goose gets shot down.”

Bigger is better. Scale reinforces safety, and a reputable brand is used by many people. That’s an advantage for a brand like Lenovo that’s found everywhere, with almost 5,000 retailers in lower-tier cities, Mr. Doctoroff said.

More in Adage.

Tom Doctoroff is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

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