Many brands have already introduced marketing campaigns in China in connection with the country’s upcoming 70th anniversary. These campaigns will often succeed or fail depending on their understanding of Chinese culture and respect for China’s territorial integrity.
Be careful of using Chinese elements
- Foreign brands are understandably inclined to use Chinese elements in their campaigns. Brands utilize everything from dragon to chopsticks in an effort to bring the brand closer to Chinese customers. However, the inappropriate use of these symbols can actually repel the local market.
- In November 2018, Chinese netizens considered it a cultural insult when D&G asked the question “how to use ‘small sticks’ to eat such ‘great’ Italian pizza” in their promotional video on Instagram for its show in Shanghai. When the brand’s designer, Stefano Gabbana, responded to the online criticism with allegations of racism, there was a backlash across China that resulted in the cancellation of the show and a boycott of D&G across China that still persists.
- In contrast to D&G, Burberry embraced Chinese culture by embroidering in red thread the Chinese calligraphy character “Fu”, which means good fortune, on its scarf to celebrate Chinese Spring Festival; Gucci cleverly presented the Chinese silk fan at its show to represent the brand’s love for Chinese elements. This underscores the importance of not just using but understanding Chinese culture when incorporating Chinese elements. Importance of territorial integrity
- More severe repercussions can result from negligence with respect to China’s territorial integrity. On August 11, 2019, Chinese actress Yang Mi announced her resignation as ambassador for Versace due to its listing of Hong Kong and Taiwan as “countries” on its T-shirts. This triggered a series of resignations by Chinese celebrities associated with fashion companies that had similar products, including Coach, Calvin Klein and Givenchy. Later, Chinese netizens identified similar products by Fresh, Asics, and Swarovski.
- All of the brands mentioned above published official apologies and altered their products, but some damage was already done: many Chinese consumers rejecting the apology and calling for a boycott.
- To avoid this, any companies operating in China should make sure their products and services reflect that the country of China consists of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau and other territories (including Tibet and Diaoyu Island). It is important to confirm that any map of China covers this entire territory of China; Hong Kong and Macau should be designated as Special Administration Regions of China; and Taiwan should be listed as a province, not a country.
China has a long and rich cultural history, and it makes sense that foreign brands seek to tap this trove in pursuit of the China market, especially during national festivals and special events. However, this strategy should not be taken lightly.
Chinese consumers can recognize whether a brand is truly dedicated to China or just seeking local cache based on cursory changes to product design, advertisements, or sound bites on social media. Therefore, companies need to thoroughly understand China’s legal requirements and culture identity before entering the market. Obtaining advice from local counsel from both legal and commercial perspectives before promotional events or publishing advertisements is a prudent decision.
To be an effective marketer across cultures and borders you first must recognise that cultural differences exist