Massaging the message for the post-90s
Updated: 2012-07-02 00:36
By Shi Jing in Shanghai (China Daily)
Advertisers start waking up to online marketing opportunities
Marketers and advertisers know where the big money will come from in the years ahead but the goal to woo the next generation of high spenders, those born after 1990, has remained elusive, at least until now.
Take home-grown sportswear giant Li Ning Co Ltd for example. It found that living off the name of its founder, the well-known "Prince of Gymnastics", in the 1980s didn't work for the post-1990s generation as it did for the previous decade of consumers. In consequence the marketing people came up with a whole new approach to promote the company's products.
They changed the company's logo from a capitalized letter L to the gymnastic movement that the athlete Li Ning was famous for and introduced a new advertising slogan — Make the Change. The company also spent tens of millions of yuan mounting an advertising campaign in June 2010 that centered on a 30-second TV commercial anchored by celebrity badminton player Lin Dan, the five-time All-England champion and the reigning Olympic champion. However, the campaign was widely seen as a flop.
The Li Ning campaign to woo the post-1990s generation is often cited as an example of how vendors sometimes misread the feelings and mood of this young and restless group. At a forum in Beijing earlier this year, Chen Gang, deputy director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Peking University, said that Li Ning’s ad, although expertly produced, conveyed a message with which its intended audience failed to identify.
A more successful commercial for the chocolate bar Snickers works because it is so outrageous, showing the transformation of a sickly damsel in ancient costume into a modern male football player after "she" takes a bite of the candy. The ad distinguishes itself from many others by shunning the big names who endorse many other brands of consumer products.
"Snickers is aiming to shape itself into being the most influential brand among young people in China," said Zhang Qing, vice-president of Mars China, the chocolate's maker, explaining the success of the Snickers ad among the post-1990s generation.
Marketing experts and advertising executives agree that they need to think outside the traditional mode to come up with ideas to court the post-1990s consumers who are not easily persuaded by the big-name stars used in the majority of ads for fashion, cosmetics, food and beverages. They are also exploring different ways to deliver their messages to post-1990s potential customers, resulting in a gradual shift in favor of online ads from the traditional channels. Xu Jin, chief executive officer of the advertising company Lowe and Partners Beijing, said the post-1990s are "hard to please".
Nonetheless, pleasing them is essential because the stakes are high for vendors at a time when this generation is beginning to join the job market. They started graduating from universities this year. Generally, they are educated better than consumers from previous generations. They are also more exposed to consumerism and feel more confident about the future than their predecessors, helping to lessen any propensity to save.
"The post-1990s are a group of young people hard to comprehend or interpret. We cannot use a single word to define this generation. However, they will become the pillar of China in the next 10 or 15 years.
Therefore, companies, brand researchers and interactive research companies should try to figure out the current trend," said Xu of Lowe and Partners.
"Compared with taking other people's advice or following in their footsteps, the post-1990s are more willing to think or do things in their own way. They are quite practical. Therefore, when we are creating advertisements in the hope of attracting this generation, we should understand their culture first. Then we can give thought to whether the ad should be interactive or digital," he said.
"We have been advertising in traditional ways but reaching out to digital sales channels gradually. With the growing popularity of Facebook, Twitter, Renren, QQ, MSN and micro blogs, the methods of social interaction are changing dramatically. It can be said that sales or advertising via the Internet and mobile communication devices are the most powerful ways to promote purchases by young people," he added.
A survey conducted by Zhaopin, one of China's biggest employment agencies, found that 82.2 percent of university graduates born after 1985 earn an average monthly salary of no more than 3,000 yuan ($472) while 91.1 percent of post-1990s can now make a monthly salary of the same amount.
Also, the post-1990s are having more of a say at home in terms of making purchases for the family.
More than 60 percent of the post-1990s generation make the decisions at home when it comes to buying new digital products, going on trips and dining out, according to a recent survey conducted by the Beijing-based Horizon Polling Group among 2,099 people born after 1990 in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Wuhan.
It also found that more than 30 percent of the young people interviewed have a say in their home when it comes to the purchase of larger durable goods such as property or automobiles.
Unsurprisingly, advertising producers are adjusting their strategies with regard to this group of people starting their careers this year. The youngsters' behavior is closely monitored by domestic and foreign vendors of a wide range of consumer goods flooding into the Chinese market at an increasing rate as markets in the United States and Europe either shrink or remain static.
"Traditional media such as TV is now called 'media for the aged'. The Internet has become irreplaceable for people between the ages of 18 and 40, those with the biggest purchasing power in the future. In this sense, online advertising is exerting an incomparable influence on these people," said Su Tong, founder and chief executive officer of Beijing-based Hylink Advertising.
Hylink has been conducting online advertising for about 10 years. Regarding the emerging market of mobile Internet, Su said they are still studying its potential before subscribing in a big way.
"We have different teams studying statistics for all age groups and make specific strategies for ads for different companies. Of course we will pay attention to any updates in this market," said Su.
Hylink started in 1996 by creating all kinds of traditional commercials for TV, newspapers and magazines. But as Su found out, the cost was too high and the media organizations were highly aggressive.
"TV commercials last just seconds. It is hard to leave a strong impression on the audience within such a short time frame. Advertising companies can hardly do something for their clients in this respect," said Su.
"On the other hand, online ads can leave a lasting impression because users can frequently refer to them online if they really like them. Everything on the Internet leaves a trace and so is traceable," he said.
Noticing the advantages of online advertising, Hylink started to devote more to it from 2002. In 2004, it devoted itself exclusively to online ads and reached annual sales of 100 million yuan that year, when rivals were making 20 million yuan at most.
"We have seen our sales growing steadily, ranging from 30 percent a year to 70 percent. Also, the type of companies willing to purchase online ads has diversified over the years, from IT companies at the beginning to banks, property developers and fashion brands these days," said Su.
Young people nowadays tend to care less about finances while shopping. Sellers of luxury brands have obviously noticed that and started to divert to online advertising.
"Luxury brands moved to online advertising almost two years ago," said Michel Gutsatz, an expert in the sector based both in France and in Shanghai.
"In fact these luxury brands use digital for communication purposes — to drive brand awareness toward younger potential customers — so as to be present on all mobile platforms they use. It is also much cheaper than print advertising. But they will never abandon print advertising.
"They are diversifying their communication channels because they know their customer base is growing and has different ways of receiving information including digital and TV and, now, mobile."
Not only luxury brand businesses but also mobile phone chip manufacturers, laptop makers and even public transport operators have shown their preference for online advertising, according to Shi Zhan, a media planner with Neo@Ogilvy Beijing, which manages the interactive media investment services for its global clients such as International Business Machines Corp, American Express Co, Cisco Systems Inc and SAP AG.
"Some companies are not doing TV commercials nowadays because of the soaring costs. To put a 15-second commercial on a local satellite TV station may cost the company more than 500,000 yuan a day. The price for that on CCTV will be astronomical, several billion yuan for each commercial, and the available time is very limited," said Shi.
"Of course the cost of an online ad will be more than 100,000 yuan a day if it is a banner put on frequently used portals. But with discounts offered and compared with the TV commercials, online advertising is more economical," she added.
Compared with traditional ads in newspapers and magazines or on TV or outdoor advertising, online advertising keeps up to date with people's lifestyles while the former lag far behind.
"People's lives are now getting more digital as we spend more time on computers and cell phones," said Shi.
"We call traditional media 'paid media’. Its users seldom get involved. The Internet, on the other hand, is called 'earn media'. We can see its interactive results multiplying as the number of Internet users increases," she added.
Some companies have seen the potential of mobile Internet and come up with ads that work with applications on smartphones. This is not an area widely exploited by advertising companies at present amid concerns about users' reactions, according to Shi.
"The ad for the online game Unparalleled Tang Dynasty has been running on video websites such as Youku.com for a long time. The wording 'fight a real fight' is short but impressive. With all the effects and grand war scenes, I could not help downloading the game immediately and start playing after seeing the ad," said 21-year-old Sun Liwei at China University of Petroleum.
Wang Xinwei, a sophomore student from Fudan University, liked the advertisement for facial tissues produced by Fujian-based Heng'an Group.
"Many children put the tissues into the sea, saying that children over the Straits will be able to come over and play together once the water is all soaked up. The ad conveyed a warm feeling. I can still recall it vividly after six years. I have been using the tissues all this time," said Wang.Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org