Big brands adapt in China

09 February 2011

BEIJING: Coca-Cola, Wrigley and Pfizer are among the organisations implementing innovative marketing techniques to engage Chinese consumers, McKinsey has argued.

The consultancy suggested Chinese New Year represented a crucial indicator as to whether Chinese households can be enticed away from conservative spending habits.

"Like Western consumers at Christmas, Chinese shoppers display a greater than usual propensity to spend during the Spring Festival," the study said.

"China celebrated the start of the Year of the Rabbit last week, and the country's marketers are hoping that a surge in sales will kick off the New Year."

Across the 2010 Spring Festival, demand rose by between 15% and 30% in various categories, with many operators making the liquor baijiu generating 20% of total revenues from this period alone.

Companies that are particularly well-placed to exploit holiday traditions include soft drinks giant Coca-Cola and tea specialist Wanglaoji.

These firms boast logos and packaging prominently featuring the colour red, which is considered lucky, and strongly associated with the Spring Festival.

Similarly, the name of biscuit manufacturer Want Want spells out prosperity in Chinese characters, another theme resonating throughout the annual celebrations.

One distinctive characteristic displayed by shoppers in the world's most populous nation is using food to demonstrate status, as 12% of customers buy products reflecting their social standing.

This can be measured against the comparative scores of just 4% in the US and 3% in the UK, McKinsey said.

Equally, the practice of giving presents as a sign of largesse enables brand owners to reach their target audience in unique ways.

Naobaijin, a health drink, directly played on these sensibilities by deploying the campaign tagline "I won't accept any gifts for Chinese New Year this year; the only gift I'll accept is Naobaijin."

Confectionary group Wrigley developed exclusive packaging for Sugus and Skittles, and Pfizer offered a gold box for its Centrum vitamin tablets.

Such a trend was observable in the beverage sector, where Huiyuan sold bottles of juice in a striking red paper bag.

With regard to media, state broadcaster CCTV still provides the greatest possibilities, as 38% of residences tuned in to one of its channels in the 2010 New Year.

Coca-Cola recently leveraged this medium with a TV spot playing on the idea of families reuniting for the holiday season.

The US multinational created a parallel online and mobile marketing effort promising rewards for unusual and interesting resolutions submitted by email or text, already receiving 2m submissions.

According to McKinsey, however, convenience is of rising importance in China, as 30% of buyers give this driver a leading role when deciding purchases.

General Mills, the food manufacturer, has moved into this area having acquired Wanchai Ferry via its takeover of Pillsbury in 2001.

This range, incorporating items from dim sum to wontons, is on sale in 100 Chinese cities through retailers like Wal-Mart and Carrefour, and saw returns jump by more than 20% last year.

Wanchai Ferry was also introduced in the US in 2009, and now yields over $50m in annual revenues.

"Chinese is the most widely eaten restaurant cuisine, but only 45% [of US shoppers] make it at home," said Jon Nudi, president of General Mills snacks division.

Nudi added that the company thus wanted to make "restaurant quality" food available to American customers.

Data sourced from Harvard Business Review; additional content by Warc staff