How to Get Ahead in Chinese Advertising

So deeply rooted, says Tom Doctoroff, is the Western belief in individual freedom, that it is nearly impossible for us to accept the fact that in Chinese culture, the individual does not exist outside of her network of familial and communal obligations. 

How to Get Ahead in Chinese Advertising

What's the Big Idea? 


Okay. Right off the bat I’m going to have to acknowledge that this is a minefield: an article on a Western website featuring a (China-based) Westerner’s expert opinion on Chinese psychology. 

But here’s the thing: Tom Doctoroff is really, really good at selling products to Chinese consumers. In a long and successful advertising career, much of it spent in Hong Kong, he has managed to avoid many of the marketing pitfalls that Western brands often fall prey to in China, due to their cluelessness about their own (Western) cultural assumptions, and how these differ from those of the Chinese. 

Because no matter how badly we may want to believe that each of us is a unique individual, free from any culturally stereotypical thinking, that idea is itself a Western construct, and proof that exactly the opposite is the case. 

Tom Doctoroff on how Chinese collectivism shapes consumer habits

So deeply rooted, says Doctoroff, is the Western belief in individual freedom, that it is nearly impossible for us to accept the fact that in Chinese culture, the individual does not exist outside of her network of familial and communal obligations. Apple’s “Think Different” campaign, for example, wouldn’t appeal to Chinese consumers, who prefer to “stand out by fitting in.” In China, conspicuous consumption – of 100 year old Corvoisier or a flashy car – is a sign of upstanding citizenship rather than a mark of personal distinction. 

Take shampoo, for example. American shampoo commercials typically show a woman luxuriating first in the sensory pleasures of a hot shower, then in the attention she gets by tossing her luxuriant locks from side to side in public. Chinese women, say Doctoroff, do not want to attract the overt attention of random passers-by. Nor do they want to see themselves as focused on private sensory pleasures. 

Realizing this, Proctor and Gamble markets its Rejoice shampoo in China as giving women the confidence to move through their professional lives, knowing that their hair is soft. In other words, outward-focused social success without any awkward, attention-getting edges. 

Haagen Dazs, too, has adapted its brand to the Chinese market, focusing on public parlors where consumers can demonstrate their sophistication publicly by paying premium prices for ice cream, something they would never do simply to scarf down a pint in the privacy of their own homes. 

And right now, most likely, a blogger somewhere in China  is writing a post entitled "How to Win Over the American Consumer" with a shampoo brand called "You!" 

The point here goes way beyond marketing, though. 

What's the Significance? 

As globalization proceeds apace and the world’s markets become increasingly, inextricably interconnected, Westerners will confront the notion that individualism is not a god-given right but rather a lifestyle choice. And we may benefit from a bit of reflection upon the selfishness and narcissism that are sometimes the flipside of the entrepreneurial spirit. 

Likewise, in spite of the best attempts of the Chinese government to fortify the Great Firewall, Western ideas will exert ever-greater influence in the East, resulting in new cultural hybrids that will keep advertising professionals busy for decades to come.

Follow Jason Gots (@jgots) on Twitter


Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.

Should you grow a beard? Here's how women perceive bearded men

Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"

Photo Credit: Frank Marino / Unsplash
Sex & Relationships
  • A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
  • Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
  • Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Keep reading Show less

Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.

Keep reading Show less

Ultracold gas exhibits bizarre quantum behavior

New experiments find weird quantum activity in supercold gas.

Credit: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • Experiments on an ultracold gas show strange quantum behavior.
  • The observations point to applications in quantum computing.
  • The find may also advance chaos theory and explain the butterfly effect.
  • Keep reading Show less

    3 cognitive biases perpetuating racism at work — and how to overcome them

    Researchers say that moral self-licensing occurs "because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard."

    Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash
    Personal Growth

    Books about race and anti-racism have dominated bestseller lists in the past few months, bringing to prominence authors including Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Robin DiAngelo.

    Keep reading Show less
    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast