TOKYO: China's Generation Y can be contradictory, the outcome of growing up in a controlled environment and coming to adulthood in an open and fast-changing world, according to a study that argues marketers have to think outside of demographics and aim toward specific motivations.

In a paper – Chinese Gen Y, the generation of opportunities – presented at the recent ESOMAR Asia Pacific regional conference, Sami Wong, Managing Partner and Founder, concept m research and consulting, China, and Dirk Ziems, Managing Partner, concept m research and consulting, Germany, outline the results of an ethnographic study.

They identified clues for creating relevant brand positioning and a background understanding for using forms of social media marketing and cross-media campaigning in a relevant way.

The main conclusion of their research, however, is that China's Gen Y is "torn between different waves of cultural values": Chinese traditionalism, Western consumerism, the digital and social media lifestyle revolution and progressive post-materialistic orientations.

"Individual markets such as food, fashion, automobile, household or consumer electronics are affected by contradictory consumer attitudes and sudden shifts of motivations," they say.

The choice of car models is a good example for this, they suggest, as they note how demand for SUVs has leapt in recent years, especially among Gen Y consumers.

"The image of the SUV is no longer only about family transportation," they write. "Instead, it is perceived to be an intimate partner to explore the world. It is a symbol of a free spirit and thrives for freedom."

That shift is reflected in advertising which no longer portrays happy families but rather smart young couples overcoming the challenges of the modern world.

"It is a more precise approach for advertisers/clients to understand the specific motivations and the specific product and brand perceptions of the Chinese Generation Y on an individual product market level," argue Wong and Ziems, "rather than postulating over-structured models such as generalised consumer typologies or consumer milieus which in the end often turn out to be too abstract and inflexible to get a hold on factual consumer behaviour."

Data sourced from ESOMAR