Quality and trust matter to shoppers in China

19 March 2010

BEIJING: An increasing number of advertisers are looking to win the loyalty of customers in China by emphasising the quality and trustworthiness of their brands.

Product safety is one key priority in the country, following on from high-profile incidents such as the sale of large amounts of tainted baby milk in 2008 by the Sanlu Group, which has since been broken up.

Tinghsin International Group, which owns Master Kong, also faced a PR crisis last year after a story circulated on the web that its bottled water came from the domestic water supply rather than natural sources.

Despite claims to the opposite in its advertising, the company was forced to reveal this was the case, arguing it was actually safer for consumers, as the quality and purity of natural water varied greatly.

"If there is any issue with quality control, a rumour can spread very fast now and can do a lot of damage to a brand in a matter of hours," Joy Huang, a research analyst at Euromonitor, said.

More broadly, the increasing assertiveness of shoppers in the rapidly-growing economy, and the rise of strong domestic firms like Haier, Lenovo and Li Ning, have all served to alter the trading climate.

"In the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese consumers were infatuated with foreign brands. Consumers are now more knowledgeable and sophisticated," said Keh Hean Tat, professor of marketing at Peking University.

The China Association for Quality Promotion recently surveyed 1,000 students, and found that 38% would turn to official channels to complain about a brand if necessary, while 35.5% would look to the media.

Mengniu, the dairy giant, and one of the biggest advertisers in the world's most populous nation, has clearly attempted to demonstrate its credentials in this area.

To do so, it established a process whereby each of its milk offerings must pass nine safety procedures, 30 different monitoring stages and 100 quality indicators.

"We are constantly strengthening scientific research so we can provide a range of dairy and beverage products for different consumer needs and different age groups," Yang Wenjun, its ceo, added.

Procter & Gamble, the FMCG specialist, has also adapted many of its goods for this market, such as by making the legs of Pampers nappies 1cm wider.

"We start from the consumer. The consumer is the boss. Each consumer has different aspirations and expectations for any products they use," said Daniela Riccardi, president of P&G's Chinese operations.

"Of all the advertising, packaging, products and promotions we do, everything is centred around the very specific positioning of different consumers."

Kraft has similarly reformulated Oreo cookies to suit local preferences, a move that Bernhard Hartmann, the managing director of AT Kearney China, suggested was an example of a wider trend in this area.

"They were too sweet and so they had to produce the cookie in a different form. It has become more of a wafer biscuit. Campbell Soup also had to introduce more flavoured broths to meet Chinese tastes," he said.

"The idea that one product fits all will not fly here. You have only got to look at food and the different cuisines around the country."

Data sourced from China Daily; additional content by Warc staff