The last word from the east: China's conspicuous consumption

Barney Loehnis
Ogilvy & Mather

The role of the marketer is more than a director who brings many players to act in co-ordination; more than even a conductor orchestrating harmonies in real time; the role is that of a circus ringmaster who has the master plan; has crafted the content sequenced in cadences; and manages the performance, wrestling then ceding control to the actors and audiences. Their success depends on their ability to keep the performance in balance without interrupting the flow; and on their ability to exert influence without robbing the audience of unpredictability and interaction. All great performances are rife with tension: consumers choose a great brand not because of, but in spite of, what they know.

In the circus that is marketing in China and across emerging markets in Asia, I seek comfort in structure, clearly assigned roles and well defined ecosystems – they are the best panacea to the daily mayhem. It was in the context of ordering some of this chaos that I was thinking about the cycle of 'conspicuous consumption' – this is an inflection point in the development of all emerging markets and categories that splits the winners from the losers and one that demands a complex orchestration of messages and actors.