China as a brand has a very poor standing, branding expert Tom Doctoroff tells the Holmes Report. “No matter where you go in the world, there is not a lot of affection for China. There is a growing sense of fear and suspicion.”
The Holmes Report:
How would you describe the state of brand China right now?
Very weak. No matter where you go in the world, there is not a lot of affection for China. There is a growing sense of fear and suspicion. This is something that the government, in whatever corner office the tourist bureau works from, can never get its head around.
People go to China because of its history and to be part of an incredible growth story. But overall the desire to visit China is weak. There is a general perception that China is grey; it is not a warm, welcoming place, and it is depersonalised. The Chinese people, so foreigners often think, are robots. The heart of the Chinese people never comes through in media coverage.
There is also the perception that China is very aggressive in advancing its interests at any cost, that it has big operatic ambitions without taking any delight in detail. But nonetheless, there is the sense among foreigners that China is exciting and dynamic.
What is China doing to change the perception of itself?
Not much. I would suspect that efforts are at best minor and fractionated, but that’s the way it is. The communist government views itself as legitmate in being patriarchal – that it has a divine mandate to forge order from chaos, and this exists on plane above the people. So in order for decision makers to take a consumer driven view of the China experience, they need to shift the mindset. But it’s difficult, and could go against how the Chinese view themselves. I could think of a strategy, but it’s not something that could come out of the machine.