During my November visit to China I saw all the signs of what I took to be runaway “BrandMania”, though according to Dan Harris in a recent China Law Blog “China’s Stunning Lack of Brands” , one might think the complete opposite.
My view of this “brand” thing is perhaps somewhat different. I noticed brands everywhere; brands I know well, the obvious Euro ones like Fendi, LV, Audi, and others I am less familiar with, but ‘brands’ never the less.
But what really stood out to my eye were the ‘knock off brands’ – the obvious imitations, like the almost identical logo of the round green and black steaming coffee cup which we saw all over …….slightly modified but totally recognizable, and the two obvious knock-offs (images below), that we came across in a department store commingling with the real things like Nautica and Aquascutum (or at least what appeared to be the real things) ☺
SBUX is everywhere, and in Hangzhou where there were Starbucks and the UK brand Costa (way better coffee IMHO), always busy, though expensive by our standards (a mocha latte cost noticeably more than in Vancouver). The typical Hangzhou clientele would be perfectly at home in Seattle and Vancouver coffee haunts and visa versa . Has coffee drinking taken over China, the home of tea? “O, no we don’t really like coffee, we always order flavored milk or chocolate drinks and not coffee, it’s the coffee culture we are in love with “ was the response or similar I received to my inquiry about China’s new love affair with corporate coffee.
The sheer quantity of ‘luxury’ European and American brand locations in just the 4 cities I visited, was mind blowing! Are these retailers profitable? And do they need so many locations to gain credibility and acceptance? Ferrari have few locations for their retail boutiques, one of which I photographed in Macau last April; but judging by the amount of Ferrari-logo apparel this is a chosen and very recognized brand (real or knock off) for many of the “Chuppie” guys we saw sporting the Ferrari logo on clothing and/or accessories.
I always thought (having come originally from the UK) that the US was awash in advertising, and quite invasive at that! However, this struck me as much more so in China, and even more intense than on my previous visits (2006 & Spring 2009). This time what caught my attention the most was the cool little 6” X 9” screens on almost every coffee shop and small restaurant table, broadcasting mini-video adverts; same types of screens on the back seats in all the taxis (difficult to impossible to shut off!). The elevators with non-stop video ads I had seen on previous trips, courtesy of Focus Media.
A few rides on the Shanghai subway was an illustration of how every square inch can be used for advertising, even on the ‘standee-straps’ overhead……each one ‘sponsored’ by an advertiser!
One evening in Hangzhou I had the opportunity to take a group of new friends out for dinner. The group consisted of two students Yao & Lily (graduating soon), Bill an engineer in an environmental company, and the personal assistant/driver for a prestigious businessman in Hangzhou whom we named Shaun. All had assisted me during my two most recent visits to China, so I wanted to accommodate their choice for dining out. Pizza Hut was their hands down choice!! Well, OK, so PH has morphed into more than a take-out place in Asia, sort of more “Italian restaurant” chain like California Pizza Kitchen. The space was huge (compared to the Pizza Hut I am familiar with) and our group obviously was extremely pleased with their choice. The menu had both the typical US style fast food Italian and an interesting thin crust sausage topping pizza that tasted exactly like a Chinese stir fry. Actually it was not bad.
So, since I just visited tier-one cities, was I getting a distorted view of BrandMania? Was I ascribing the attributes of these mega cities to the whole of China, something which is not uncommon for the inexperienced like myself to do? ☺ In addition to flying, I traveled the hour & twenty minutes between Shanghai and Hangzhou by high speed train; could this be the balanced view I needed? No comment!
Dan Harris’s observation is somewhat surprising, considering everything I observed in the cities: I would have assumed the Chinese companies would be eager to snap up US and European big brands (and not only big). Yet in a subsequent China Law Blog Dan mentions an interesting new twist; companies from the west manufacturing in China for the Chinese consumer ~ makes me think that POLO MEISDO and BOSSsunwen are examples of this☺ Does anyone know if these are in fact created by Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss for the China market, or are they just more clever copycats?
What message does this “BrandMania” send? Consumerism is IN, and HERE to stay? China’s “stimulus program” is stimulating frenzied consumption? Chinese brand advertising has been successful? AND why has the ultimate brand, the “real” iPhone failed so far in China?