Young China welcomes West

President Clinton’s recent visit to China; the media hype surrounding the opening of Hong Kong’s new international airport; and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s trip to the Orient all illustrate the increasing international importance of the Chinese market to Western economies and multinational companies.

With a population of 1.2 billion and economic growth rates exceeding those of the neighbouring (and struggling) tiger economies, the Chinese market has much potential.

BMRB International’s China Media & Marketing Survey (CMMS) paints a comprehensive picture of Chinese consumption habits together with media and advertising information.

Perhaps the most significant finding is the generational split between those receptive and unreceptive to advertising. In the US and the UK, we are aware of a divide that falls around age 55. In China not so. It is the under 35s who feel positive towards advertising, whereas the over 35s (both 35 to 54 and over 55s) have similar and traditionally hostile attitudes to advertising.

The attitudes of these older consumers is typified by statements such as “I don’t pay attention to outdoor advertising, papers and magazines”; “truly good products don’t need advertising” and “don’t pay attention to the brands I buy”.

In contrast, the under 35s “like to try new brands”, believe “a famous brand can improve their image”, “like to buy foreign even if it’s more expensive” and generally regard advertising as part of modern life. This trend is supported by brand mapping. With cigarettes for example, it is Kent, Camel and Marlboro that appeal to the younger age groups, whereas older smokers still prefer “home-grown” brands.

Some Western brands can appeal across all age groups. For example, Procter & Gamble’s Wash & Go (branded Rejoice in China), Pantene, and Head & Shoulders scoop the top three slots in the consumption table with Wash & Go commanding 32 per cent of the total shampoo market. Lux by Lever Brothers and Sifone by Japanese manufacturer Kao take fourth and fifth places respectively.

In terms of media consumption, television is the favourite. TV-watching is the main pastime for the 35- to 54-year-olds and over 55s – which, given their currently negative disposition towards advertising, may be interpreted as an opportunity for advertisers to change some old preconceptions.

China’s 35- to 54-year-olds watch on average 20 hours 48 minutes a week, rising to 22 hours 54 minutes for those aged over 55. The middle-aged list factual programmes – news, weather, documentaries and economic/investment reports as their favourites. The older generation prefers drama and plays, health reports, entertainment shows and domestic serials and films.

Chinese 15- to 34-year-olds display characteristics shared by their peers in many parts of the world. While they are advertising-receptive, they are also hard to target accurately. Although they watch less television than their elders (20 hours 16 minutes per week), 94 per cent of them turned on the TV in the previous week. But clues to their programme preferences are revealed through cluster analysis: cartoons and music, followed by films, advertisements themselves and travel guides all attract strong young audiences for this difficult to target market.

Sports programmes, foreign serials and soaps are relatively popular among both the 15- to 34-year-olds and the 35 to 54 age group.

Daily consumption patterns for the 15 to 35s show TV reaching 85 per cent, followed by regional newspapers (50 per cent), radio (35 per cent) and interestingly, national newspapers at 31 per cent – times have certainly changed since the days of the state-controlled Communist press.

Ranking media consumption/ exposure on a weekly basis, in the younger age group – as already noted – 94 per cent watch any TV. Outdoor advertising reaches 88 per cent of this group, while weekly newspaper readership and radio listening accumulate penetrations of 44 per cent and 43 per cent respectively.

On a monthly basis cinema provides the opportunity to target 21 per cent of all 15 to 34s, and monthly magazines are in general better-established than weeklies, with a readership of 44 per cent There is increasing influence from the West in this sector: for example Elle has already launched in China, and is soon to be joined by Cosmopolitan.

For the first time we are able to measure the penetration of “new” attitudes and consumption habits within the rapidly-changing social fabric of urban China. With the 15 to 34 age group already emerging as “ad-acceptors”, it will be interesting to see whether the 35 to 54 age group can remain impartial to advertising.

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