All Articles Leadership Strategy In Chinese culture, consumers seek brands that allow them to stand out by fitting in

In Chinese culture, consumers seek brands that allow them to stand out by fitting in

2 min read


SmartBrief is partnering with Big Think to create a weekly video spotlight in SmartBrief on Leadership called “VIP Corner: Video Insights Powered by Big Think.” This week, we’re featuring advertising professional and author Tom Doctoroff.

While individualism is an important part of Western culture, in Chinese culture, it is discouraged, Tom Doctoroff, advertising professional and author of “What Chinese Want,” says. Individualism is like a forbidden fruit in China in that people want to achieve it, but they are discouraged from doing so by the notions of Confucian society. This causes tension between regimentation and ambition, which Doctoroff says is the key to marketing and consumption in China.

“This tension between regimentation and ambition leads to what I would consider the golden rule of marketing and brand consumption in China, which is that people what to stand out by fitting in,” Doctoroff says. He notes that Chinese people want to spend a lot of money on goods that they can show off and that make a statement about their status, but goods that are privately consumed are “very price-sensitive.” It is that desire to project status in an understated way that drives Chinese consumption habits.

Doctoroff cites several examples of products that are successful in China because they allow people to do just that. Starbucks is an understated status symbol for the new generation of professionals in China, just as diamonds are a symbol for women and Mont Blanc pens are for men. “So this projection of status drives a lot of multi-national brands business strategy,” he says.

Big Think is a forum in which top experts explore big ideas and core skills defining the 21st century. Learn more from its editors, fellows and guest speakers.