The Biggest Mistake Global Brands Make in Building China Campaigns

4 minute read

By the Hot Pot China Strategy Team

When global brands plan and execute campaigns in the China market, there are two classic approaches that fail to hit the mark:

  1. Plan the global campaign centrally, then retro-fit messaging, visuals and tactics to the China market
  2. Give local China teams autonomy

The former approach typically leads to campaigns that fundamentally miss the mark with Chinese consumers and leaves China teams disgruntled, having to work with unfit assets and “toolkits” that can’t be made to resonate with Chinese consumers

The latter approach runs the risk of having a highly localised campaign that may drive short term gains (sales), but most frequently serves to undermine core DNA and long-term market prospects (brand).

As these two outcomes are equally unpalatable, what tactics do work?

If you want to win with Chinese consumers, both domestically and abroad, then China thinking needs to come upstream. 

Local teams in China, as well as selected partners with relevant bi-cultural expertise, need to be consulted and empowered at the outset of global campaign planning. Without this, core facets of campaigns will fall flat in the China market and the nuances/strengths of Chinese digital platforms will be neglected or annulled.

The coronavirus has sadly overshadowed this years’ celebrations but Chinese New Year is a key period for brands to engage Chinese consumers. We see significant efforts made to mark the celebration through elaborate and emotive campaign creative amplified across China and to Chinese consumers across the rest of the world.

Nike’s highly acclaimed campaign shows a great awareness of the target market while keeping true to the brand’s core values. This campaign can’t be achieved by a creative team sitting in isolation in New York, London or Paris. It required deep cultural and market insights, as well as best-in-class execution.

After falling wide of the mark in 2019 and securing the displeasure of the vast majority of China’s online community, Burberry returned this year with the well crafted Ratberry CNY game. This represented a complete overhaul of 2019’s macabre creative angle and stayed in the positive territory of fun, shareability and gamification. Not the most innovative or creative of angles, but a safe bet that understood consumer online behaviours at Chinese New Year.

Sadly too many brands opt for something more hastily put together, like Gucci’s Mickey Mouse collaboration. While the contractual elements of securing Mickey Mouse must have been in place for months, if not years, the campaign execution felt very last-minute with a few token posts on Instagram designed to reach the globally-based Chinese consumer. Additionally Mickey Mouse appears in a wide range of guises on cheap fake goods in China and so did little to elevate the Gucci brand name.

Even during a peak period like Chinese New Year, local China teams are not being consulted on creative and campaign execution by their global counterparts. With the number of Chinese now travelling and living overseas this is to the detriment of the top and bottom line – according to McKinsey 70% of all luxury purchases by Chinese consumers happen outside China.

How to ‘localise’ for China

Brands often talk about the need to ‘localise’ for China, but what does this actually mean?

The most effective China strategies and executions reflect global brand DNA with inflection to ensure relevance to Chinese consumers. Global messaging must be adapted to China but not to the extent where the original brand is no longer recognisable. Can this realistically be achieved if global and local teams operate in silos?

Hot Pot advocates for local China teams to be brought upstream into global campaign and creative planning. If China is a focus market then only bringing in local China teams when the work is done and it is time to ‘localise’ is a huge missed opportunity.

It’s much more effective to bring on-the-ground insights and thinking into the process from the outset. Brands such as Michael Kors and Canada Goose are doing this well, but the majority of global brands have much to learn about reaching one of their most valuable audiences in a meaningful way. It’s time for change.

At a time when events related to the coronavirus have created a period of reflection among retailers in China, savvy brands are focusing on their China strategic and creative approaches to ensure they are positioned for the return to consumer normalcy forecast for early summer.

At Hot Pot China we work with local brand teams in China as well as global HQs and creative teams to plan and deliver effective global campaigns in the China market. Contact Hot Pot China to discover the difference we can make to your campaign impact.