Chinese Culture meets western marketing
10.11.2005

In order to understand Chinese consumers and their perception of markets, brands, products and services, it is essential to understand the cultural attitude towards these things. No matter if it’s a food product, a cleaning product, or a technological innovation – the cultural background mainly decides whether a product is accepted or not, whether it will be a success or a failure.

After decades of ‘equality’, a gap is forming between old and new, rich and poor, Chinese and Western values, urban and rural areas. While in Shanghai futuristic architecture, heavy traffic, postmodern shopping centers, and international nightlife are driving the pulse of the city, vast parts of the country, including cities with millions of people, have hardly been affected by this development.

Western perception tends to initially focus on the ‘contradictions’: hyper-modern office towers alongside dilapidated, medieval residential districts in which people cook, eat, wash, and live on the streets. Or another example: An open and unbroken materialism does not prevent daily contact with house gods.

- The interests of the dragon

Soon, however, it becomes evident that while these ‘contradictions’ are indeed to some extent part of the swift development, they are not necessarily perceived as contradictions by the Chinese. Thus, for the Chinese, other things are ‘coherent’ and ‘fit together’ than for people in Western cultures.

For example, a large apartment building in Hong Kong was constructed with a big hole extending across several floors to afford the dragon that lives on the mountain behind the house an unobstructed view of the sea. While the Western investors were pulling out their hair (according to the story that is often told), the Chinese populace was actually quite satisfied with this synthesis of capital interests and those of the dragon.

Cultures and mentalities are defined to a large extent by what fits together and interrelates within them as well as what is viewed as a contradiction or incongruity. For example, people on holiday often find the modes of behavior or attitudes of the locals to be ‘strange’, that is, contradictory.

Like an individual’s personality, a culture also has a ‘characteristic history’ and level of development that determines what fits and what does not.

rheingold carried out two studies for a manufacturer of brand products in China and in the process gained insights into the country, its people, and the market.
Using a cross-cultural approach, rheingold and a Chinese market research agency investigated whether brand and product were compatible with things that are self-evident for the Chinese, with their expectations, attitudes, and customs. In addition, the researchers explored whether the product offer might be considered ‘strange’ by the Chinese and how it should be communicated.

- Exciting syntheses

An important insight gained was that the young Shanghai translator’s statement about wanting to ‘have fun and make money’ should not be viewed as total renouncement of tradition. But that in today’s China entirely new and exciting syntheses between Chinese tradition and Western-influenced modernity are forming.

In rheingold’s experience, by taking account of cultural differences qualitative psychological research can make a major contribution to development of consumer-relevant strategies and thus help companies master the challenges posed by the ‘giant foreign market China’. In fact, understanding the cultural peculiarities is essential for success.

© 2015 rheingold